How to Create an Event Where Everyone Feels They Belong

In his PCMA EduCon 2023 session on June 26, Dan Berger identified four belonging personas and how event organizers can consider each when planning an event.

Author: Curt Wagner       

four belonging personas

Dan Berger has assigned animals — dolphin, dog, cat, hedgehog — to represent each of the four belonging personas of people. See the slides below for more in the personas.

Once event organizers understand the four belonging personas of their attendees, they can create inclusive programming and implement design interventions with each persona in mind, Dan Berger, chairman of The Belonging Project, told an EduCon audience on June 26. In turn, he said, they will be able to design events that make all attendees feel like they belong, and thus drive business outcomes ranging from audience retention to revenue goals.

His presentation, “The Secret Sauce for Cultivating Belonging & Building Vibrant Communities,” took place virtually because Berger’s flight to Montreal was canceled on Sunday. After some technical difficulties delayed the session, he presented from his home in Boise, Idaho.

Belonging, Berger said, “is the feeling of being accepted, valued, and included just as you are in a certain environment.” All people fit under at least one of four belonging personas, he said, adding that he has attached an animal to each persona to help explain them. He also explained how event organizers could craft moments in their events to customize to these personas. Here is a quick review of what he said about each persona:

belonging personas named: secure belonging, anxious belonging, independent belonging, ambivalent belonging

The four belonging personas sit on a need-to-belong matrix, Dan Berger says, that shows they have either a high or low need to belong and have high or low attachment anxiety.

Secure Belonging — Dolphins

Many people who attend meeting events fall under this persona, mostly because they are energetic in groups — like dolphins — and enjoy talking to and being with others. They have a high need to belong but low attachment anxiety, he said. They love in-person events, especially networking opportunities and interactive sessions.

Anxious Belonging — Dogs

These people also are energetic but are “making sure there is nothing in their teeth,” he said, and explained dogs have a desire for constant companionship but need constant validation. People with this persona are similar — they have a high need to belong but also have high attachment anxiety. Berger noted that attendees with this persona could benefit from mentor or buddy programs at an event or within an association.

Independent Belonging — Cats

Just like our feline frenemies, these people are independent and autonomous although they do enjoy the occasional social interactions — on their own terms. They may be turned off by too many group programs but enjoy more intimate conversations. They have a low need to belong and low attachment anxiety.

Ambivalent Belonging — Hedgehogs

Hedgehogs are known for their defensive mechanism of rolling into a ball, but in a safe environment they are more social. People with this persona may lack the sharp spines, but they are more reserved and introverted than the other personas. This persona benefits from events that have clearly defined goals and boundaries such as time limits and limits on number of interactions.

When a participant asked Berger how to identify the belonging personas of their audience, he said that event professionals “have that sixth sense that can identify” who is who. But, he said, organizers should plan their events with each of the four personas in mind because they all are likely to be present.

characteristics of each belonging persona.

The characteristics of each belonging persona.


Curt Wagner is digital editor at Convene.

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