How to design events that speak to the inner child in all attendees

Designing events that resonate with the inner child of every attendee can transform an ordinary gathering into a deeply personal experience. This approach involves creating an environment that fosters openness and promotes genuine connections between participants.

However, even if attendees have clear intentions to be open and make connections, several subconscious biases can hinder human interaction and meaningful engagement. Most of the time, we remain oblivious to these biases. Fortunately, insights from behavioral science and social psychology research offer steps we can take to assist attendees in overcoming these obstacles, allowing them to express themselves freely, embrace vulnerability, and build connections.

The creation of a safe space and leveraging the power of language are two such steps. However, what exactly can be done?

Creating a Safe Space

The psychological safety discussion often focuses on teams, but it is long overdue for events to also be the focus. This is because experiences can only become impactful if we create an environment where people are not afraid to speak up; where there’s open communication and room for diverse perspectives. Also, a psychologically safe space is crucial to well-being and belonging.

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In terms of event planning, how can psychological safety be created? Here are some ideas:

  • Invite your attendees to co-create a welcoming setting and make your efforts to create a psychologically safe environment visible.

For instance: send out pre-event surveys asking participants for their input on what makes them feel most comfortable and engaged; openly acknowledge and celebrate the ways in which the environment is co-created, throughout the event.

  • Make sure your speakers are connected to the audience before the event.

This encourages the exchange of ideas and gives your speakers a unique opportunity to include what the audience really cares about in their content. In the end, it will be a win-win situation: your speakers will get even more praise, and your participants will feel heard.

  • Do not stop at post-event surveys.

As I keep saying, observing and interviewing attendees, sponsors and team members is the best way to receive reliable feedback. But it’s also a great way to truly listen and understand, contributing to psychological safety.

  • Break away from the usual formats.

It’s not just about sticking to the same safe and proven formats, but about taking risks, trying new things and inviting new faces, including those from outside the industry or those who express unpopular opinions. By leading in this way, you’ll signal that your event environment is open to everyone and psychologically safe.

The Power of Language

Humans have an incredible advantage compared to all other species: language. Words possess the power to heal or hurt, and being mindful of the potency of language and using it thoughtfully, can give you a distinct edge. Here are some tips on how to harness this power:

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  • Whether in your online communications or when speaking from the stage, ensure that your team and speakers use language that fosters trust, respect and openness.
  • Embrace inclusive language. Instruct your speakers to avoid jargon or colloquial expressions, opting instead for plain language and analogies that resonate with everyone. Additionally, consider using gender-neutral terms to combat gender stereotypes.
  • Recognize the detrimental impact of verbal microaggressions on your participants’ well-being, self-esteem and sense of belonging. This awareness will enable you to develop strategies to counteract and prevent such situations. “The goal is not to be fearful of communicating with each other, but instead to embrace the opportunity to be intentional about it.”
  • Emphasize the importance of personal stories. It’s crucial to lead by example when encouraging others to open up. Being vulnerable, sharing personal stories from the stage, and allowing your communication to resemble a friendly conversation rather than a formal corporate style (which includes incorporating humor and accepting mistakes) can have a profound impact on fostering a sense of belonging, inclusivity, and safety within your audience.


This inner child holds the key to our most genuine expressions of openness, emotional vulnerability and our need to connect meaningfully. Consequently, keeping this in mind when designing events results in more authentic, comfortable and therefore much more productive experiences. Isn’t this what every event organizer strives for?

Victoria Matey is an event psychology advisor, co-founder of Matey Events and Smart Women in Meetings Award winner.

This article appears in the March 2024 issue as “Safe Space Secrets.” You can subscribe to the magazine here.