One of the things I learned in Priya Parker’s fantastic book “The Art of Gathering” is how you might stretch an event that is an hour long into a guest experience that lasts for many hours, days, weeks or longer. And potentially it could take less money, effort, and time to do so.
How is this possible? Anticipation and preparation.
Imagine a two hour potluck, where guests are asked to bring a dish to share with others. Those guests that love food and love to cook now get to daydream and plot what surprise they might bring. They might get to experiment with a new recipe they’ve been wanting to try it. As they plan for the potluck they play and replay a scene in their minds of guests enjoying their dish and complementing them on their efforts.
For a certain type of guest this anticipatory phase of the event is extremely enjoyable. The host (to the delight of the guests) has extended the memories of the meal and the experience of the potluck well beyond the scheduled two hours. And the guests (to the delight of the host) have saved the host time and money in preparing food for everyone.
Another example of anticipation extending the event is Halloween. Or a costume party. Certain types of people love the opportunity to plan and make costumes. Some people will get hours of enjoyment putting their costume together – with relatively little cost for the host.
When is Christmas? It’s not the 25th for everyone. For many it starts in early October when the decorations first start hitting the stores.
A vacation might last a week or two. But the experience of exploring vacation options and planning the vacation can literally last years.
(Note: that experience extensions only work if the guest is a fit for the experience. If you don’t enjoy cooking or potlucks (like me), you don’t feel anticipation, you feel dread and annoyance. (“why can’t we just order pizza…”). Usually these people will do everyone the favor and not attend, but keep in mind that there can be social pressure or other reasons that someone might feel compelled to attend despite disinterest in such anticipations.)
Even if nothing needs done, made, or bought, you can extend the experience simply by planting the seeds of anticipation.
For The Eureka Room I’ve purposely made a mysterious looking website and not given too many hints as to what actually happens or what it actually looks like. I also have some press out there that fails to describe it, merely stating “You just have to go. I can’t explain it.”
For a certain type of person this is extremely intriguing. They get to wonder and imagine what sorts of things they might experience. If they’ve booked a showing, their anxiety and/or excitementment will be heightened until they get to see it for themselves.
When they tell the story of their experience it won’t begin with “Well we showed up to The Eureka Room and…”. It will be “I found this thing and had no idea what it was. It looked really interesting but kind of sketchy maybe. I wasn’t sure about it but my partner wanted to go. They had to talk me into it but I said if I get killed it’s your fault” Etc etc.
Their story is their experience and their experience starts when their anticipation starts.
(Followup: since I wrote this post I’ve discovered that my mysterious website was turning off some potential customers. Instead of anticipation, they were just puzzled and unsure what to anticipate.. I have since updated the website to include more information that I hope creates better expectations, lowers confusion, and elevates anticipation).
Anticipation vs Waiting
It’s important to keep in mind the distinction between “anticipating” and “waiting”. Knowing that something is going to happen doesn’t mean you are anticipating. Unless you are feeling some excitement and have some expectations, it’s not anticipating: You wait at the DMV. You anticipate The Eureka Room; You wait for the bus that takes you to work. You anticipate the bus that takes you into the national park.
Just because someone is waiting for something they want and feeling anticipation doesn’t mean they will feel anticipation indefinitely. You go to a nice restaurant you’ve been wanting to eat at for ages. You order something that sounds fantastic and then anticipate that delicious meal coming out of the kitchen. Well.. for about the first 20-30 minutes. Slowly the anticipation transmutes into “waiting”.
If you are going to design anticipation into your experience, whether it be days-long anticipation for the event to begin or leaving them hang for just a minute during a story you are telling, bear in mind there is a limit to where the anticipation turns into waiting.
It’s hard to create an experience that doesn’t have some amount of waiting. See if you can identify the times people are “waiting” and brainstorm ways you can turn it into “anticipating”. Simple things like adding a count-down timer or having a hype-person or allowing guests to mingle and talk with each other about what is about to happen can make “waiting” into something fun.