mapping the “flow” of event experiences

We use experiences as personal resources that are part of our economy — resource for establishing one’s place in the community (because of one’s special knowledge, gained through experiences), but also for establishing one’s identity.

Csíkszentmihályi describes a great experience as a state of “intense emotional involvement” which only occurs when the individual is “…completely involved in an activity for its own sake..when your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” These moments “usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

What is flow and why should we care?

During this “optimal experience” event participants feel “strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities.” Csikszentmihalyi insists that these experiences do not simply happen — each person must cultivate them by setting challenges that are neither too high nor too low for ones skills.

As event designers, can we use the flow frame to cultivate these experiences and make them worthwhile for the participants?

Whether the participants are conscious that they are in a state of flow, or not, knowing the underlying causes and conditions for the state of flow could be very useful for the event managers who wish to to be able to facilitate flow and possibly predict behaviour.

According to Getz, the total enjoyment and satisfaction perceived by the event participants are affected by the both physical environment (the program, setting and management system designed by the event managers), and the social element (the behaviours and complex interactions between visitors and staff, volunteers, performers, and other visitors).

Let’s look into the conditions of flow. According to Csikszentmihalyi, these experiences only occur when the settings are right:

  • we can complete the task
  • we can concentrate on what we are doing
  • there is clear goal and immediate feedback
  • there is deep and effortless involvement
  • we can exercise control over our actions and the outcome
  • the concern for the self disappears
  • the sense of time is altered

But how do we manage personal views, motivation, expectations, values, and past experiences in the effort to create conditions for deep and effortless involvement?

We can set the flow stage by using Csíkszentmihályi’s Three Conditions, i.e. the three things that must be present if you want to enter a state of flow:

  1. Goals – Goals add motivation and structure to the activity — as an event designer the content and the challenges of the event are managed by you
  2. Balance – There must be a good balance between skill and challenge of the task
  3. Feedback – Provide mechanism for clear, immediate feedback, so participants can use to make changes and improve their performance — it could be feedback from peers, or awareness of progress

Creating a sham reality and manipulating its external features to facilitate a “best moment”, i.e. a moment in time when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult or worthwhile, is a matter of using the right framework. Including an element of the flow activities (play, art, pageantry, rital and sports) and using the building blocks of flow in the event design and production, is a good stepping stone for event management.

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