Imagine a conference where attendees are encouraged to drop their professional facade and learn how to deeply relate to others. Where business card exchanges are replaced with actual conversation. And where people are given the space to meditate, reflect and get in touch with their inner kid.
This is exactly what happens at A-Fest. This application-only conference has a lofty goal: to provide attendees with “powerful training, profound mind shifts, bio-hacking techniques, deep connections, incredible adventures and unique opportunities.” The hope of its founders is that at the end of the experience, attendees can significantly expand their ability to accomplish bold things.
Jason Campbell, an events director for Mindvalley, the company behind A-Fest, is one of the people who helps make this possible. We sat down and talked to Campbell— via Skype, because he’s based in Malaysia— about how organizers can create a unique event that encourages openness, collaboration and community.
How do you get business leaders, who might be a little reserved or concerned about looking professional, to open up at A-Fest?
The founder of A-Fest, Vishen Lakhiani, starts every A-Fest with a talk about “consciousness engineering.” He encourages everyone to be aware of the fact that one person’s model of reality can differ from that of everybody else in the room. Having this conversation instantly puts people into the mindset of thinking, “Maybe my reality can be changed.” They’re much more open to changing their own perception, and they also open up more to other people.
Do you have a formula you use to create the right mix of attendees?
We do use some ratios that are critical to A-Fest’s success. One is the ratio of new guests to returning guests. We try and keep that around 50/50. We also make sure that we have worldwide representation. Since it’s an application-only event, we like to choose people from countries that don’t often attend conferences. It’s really exciting, because a lot of people at A-Fest have never met someone from Estonia or Zimbabwe. That diversity helps to create an atmosphere of curiosity.
Lastly, we make sure there’s an even split in the types of people that we bring to the conference. I’d say that half our guests are serious entrepreneurs. The other half are more new-age, liberal, personal development types. Once the left-brained and right-brained types are together, the people on the arts side tend to create space for people who are on the business side to feel comfortable opening up.
How can you create a naturally collaborative environment at a conference?
When you come to A-Fest, you leave the ordinary world. You’re part of a contained experience: It’s a five-star hotel, we have a high-energy start, there are magical themed parties, and you’re isolated from the outside world. Because we emphasize that people are there to learn and grow, they tend to leave their egos at the door.
The way that we promote the event also helps. We emphasize that A-Fest is a tribe and community. At the start, we refer to returning attendees as “tribe elders.” We make it clear that they’re there to support anyone who is new. The returning guests feel more empowered as part of our tribe, and the new people understand that there are others around them who can provide a safe space.
Is there a specific activity that you think really helps people get out of their shells?
Every year we work with Lisa Nichols, a transformational speaker who does a pre-event storytelling workshop at A-Fest. One of her exercises is called “earth angel.” She gets people into groups of four, and has one person sit in a chair. Then she explains that we all have the potential to be great, but we also have a lot of fear or embarrassment. So she’ll have the person in the chair state something he or she wants to excel in, like “I am a great public speaker.” Then the other three people, even louder, will reply, “You are a great public speaker.”
Soon, the room is filled with people screaming different affirmations. Of course, if you just walked into the room, everyone looks ridiculous. But it’s truly a safe space, which is very important to create, as it allows for personal growth and connection to others.
How do you build community within a single building/office?
I think a really fun thing to do is to create a mysterious morning event that you market as a way to boost productivity. For example, say, “At 9 a.m. on Monday, our building is hosting a surprise event that will increase your productivity for the rest of the week in ways that you have never experienced before.”
At Mindvalley we use 6-Phase Meditation. It encourages people to feel connected to others, express gratitude and forgiveness, imagine their perfect life in three years, imagine the perfect day as they’re going towards that vision and accept blessings from whatever higher power they believe in.
Presented as a performance-enhancing tool, ask everyone to give it a chance. The next time you gather, ask everyone what their experience was like. If people start doing this daily, it’s insane the amount of amazing energy it unleashes. People are less distracted and more present. Once that becomes clear, you’ll have more and more people coming together to do the meditation.
This interview was edited for brevity and clarity. The Collaboration Champions by Convene is a series that profiles amazing individuals that go above and beyond to bring humans in the workplace together in often game-changing or unorthodox ways. If you would like to be featured or nominate a collaboration champion, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org!