Engagement Is A Process, Don’t Push It

I never thought knowledge about plastic recycling would be the reason to get more engaged.

Those who know me now may find it hard to believe that I hardly participated in any school-sponsored events before college. I was the student who ignored or declined pretty much every extracurricular activity. I thought that was something “those” kids did, not me.

During my first month of college, I received endless invites to join various student groups, but I was never particularly interested in any of them. However, one student, Adan, was persistent and extended invitations for me to join his group, Go Green Club, three separate times. Each time I declined until one day when I saw him behind a table in the hallway stacked with empty plastic containers.

I had just finished my last class of the day and was heading to my car when I saw Adan behind a table full of plastic containers. Several people were around his table with music playing, and overall felt like a lively atmosphere. It was the Go Green Club, and they were hosting some kind of competition to win a prize.

As I looked around, I noticed a sign that read, “Guess correctly and win a prize.” I liked prizes and winning, so I walked over to the table to learn more. They were playing a game that required people to guess which plastic containers on the table were recyclable. If you got a perfect score, you’d win a gift card to the campus bookstore.

I’m sad to report that I didn’t win the money, but I had a fun time playing the game and learned a lot about environmental sustainability. 

“1 and 2 recycle to make brand new. 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 toss in the trash to turn to ash.”

The following week, I saw Adan in the Library. This time, he wasn’t a stranger because we connected through the plastic game he ran. So when he asked me to join him at the next event, I told him, “Why not? I’ll be there!” 

The rest is history because, after that first meeting, I was a regular and eventually signed up to join their executive board.

Engagement is a gradual process that involves taking someone through the DFT Engagement Pyramid one step at a time. Moving someone from Neutral to 3, 4, or 5 before they are ready either won’t work or will be demotivating. It’s rare for someone who has never participated in your organization to attend an event suddenly. Engaging your disengaged members is possible but might require you to think slightly differently.

3 Ways to Gradually Increase Engagement

Go for the lowest-hanging engagement:

In terms of Dance Floor Theory, if someone is on the edge of the dance floor and isn’t even moving their head to the music, you can’t expect them to go to the middle of the dance floor and breakdance with you. So instead, focus on the easiest ways to create engagement. On a dance floor, this could simply be uncrossing their arms. Within a community, it could be something as simple as smiling at a funny welcome message.

Bring the event to them:

Don’t expect your Neutrals or 1s ever to attend an event you are hosting. Instead, you need to bring the event to them. If you know there is heavy foot traffic in a specific area, then set up your event there. For example, Adan held his Go Green Club contest in the hallway, where I frequently passed, increasing the likelihood that I would participate.

Don’t rush the process:

There is no need to coerce member participation. Instead, take it slowly. Keep engaging someone at their level, plus one more level. So if they are Neutral, focus on getting their attention and building the connection. Eventually, that will permit you to engage them as a 2, 3, 4, or 5. This is how you gradually increase Neutrals to 1s, 2s, 3s, 4s, and 5s.

I would never have said yes to attending a Go Green Club event had it not been for the contest they hosted in the hallway that I happened to see on my way back home. Adan did everything right. He placed the event in my direct path. He made it super easy to engage. And he waited until the next time I saw him to invite me to his event. If you struggle to engage your members, try this process out next time you plan events.

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