The Critical Points

It’s all about ‘Critical Mass’ – and it’s a critical point – where things start to change dramatically, and it can be applied to any system, including events.


This critical point is often called the ‘Tipping Point’, at which you hit a threshold amount, that then causes a major impact in the system. It’s like that moment when enough people turn up to a party, then it starts to feel like a party! 

These moments are often called the ‘inflection point’ where a growth curve jumps up in the right direction. 

We covered lifecycles and growth curves a few weeks ago, and finding, or knowing when these tipping points can occur with your event is super critical, as this all relates to that crucial point where you either go into growth or decline.

Critical Mass @ Scale + Atmosphere = Success

Success in events is often defined by whether you hit the attendance numbers you need, and in the experience that you provide. And we can see ‘critical mass’ appear in both contexts.

Critical Scale

We often refer to the ‘break-even point’ in our event business plans, that point where every sale starts to continue to profits, rather than just covering expenses.

This is obviously critical to achieve, and a critical point, where every additional ticket sold contributes to profit.But, your critical mass might also be seen at the point where your event reaches a critical phase in your audience’s perceptions. When your event reaches sufficient scale and profile, that it is seen as THE PLACE to be.

Once you’ve generated a critical mass, a certain number of people, getting more people ‘on board’ require less effort.We often see that reaching a point of being “almost sold out” creates its own inflection point, as it engages the feeling of scarcity and the ‘social currency’ of people wanting to be where others are.

And then, the status of a “sold-out event” is also often a tipping point for future growth – reaching a certain status in your audience’s minds. When the SOLD OUT sign goes up, we know this message creates an exponentially powerful market positioning status.

Sold out state often means less promotion next time!


Critical Atmosphere

There is also a point where you get a certain number of people engaged in your event, that makes it feel like an event. Generating that all-important ‘atmosphere’ is always the most important intangible measure of our event success. So the design of our event is super important. In the Art of Gathering, Priya Parker talks about how we should not just choose our venues wisely, bit also maniuplate these spaces so that we create the optimal vibe in the space. Whether it is a room, a park or a stadium, it is critical to get this balance right.

The selection and manipulation of spaces is a prime example. Getting the right space, for the amount of people you will have, determines what the critical mass for that space will be.Self-generating success – the ‘flywheel’

The good news is that if by identifying these tipping points you can overcome inertia, to generate momentum, and when you reach a critical mass, it, it can have real staying power. Which brings us to another scientific model, the flywheel.

We’ve all been on a flywheel at some stage

Many of us can relate to this concept in the form of a kid’s playground merry go round. It takes a lot of effort to get it going, but once its spinning, it takes a lot less. And if you can keep it spinning with a little amount of effort, your audience (kids) have a great time, with less effort from the operator (you)! And that’s the way we want it with our events, once we get them running well it would be nice to put in less effort to keep them running successfully.The flywheel model represents the rotating physical disk that is used to store energy, and it is the same for many successful companies, needing to grow. In his great book, Good to Great, Jim Collins provides examples of the flywheel in action, of how companies went from good, to great. What Jim found was that for the likes of Coca Cola, Intel, General Motors etc., etc., growth always came from a cumulative process, step by step, action by action, decision by decision, turn by turn of the flywheel, and that all added up to spectacular results.

It’s the same in events.  The world’s leading events have evolved year by year. From The Olympics to Super bowl and World Cup Finals, Grand Slams, big city Marathons, and Le Tour. From Glastonbury to Coachella, Rio Carnival and Mardi Gras around the world. If it’s the Grammy’s or the Academy Awards, SXSW to TED Talks, Fashion Weeks and World Expo’s all these events have evolved turn by turn, with each new event leveraging the momentum of the last. And it will be the same for your event.

Another cycle – the Adoption Lifecycle 

Most popular events, brands, tech or even ideas have had these tipping points that propelled them further into the mainstream.

The curves that emerge are known as the S curves, which we spoke about a few weeks ago.  This is often referred to as the Technology Adoption Lifecycles, but has been proved to apply in many contexts, including social movements, and it applies to your event.

It is the same in events, so we need to know where our event, or the genre, the market we are in is at along its adoption curve.

It’s useful to ask, has a tipping point occurred?

When will it?

What would be a catalyst?

Or will it ever occur?

So how do you get a Tipping Point?

The root cause of why a tipping point is often found in the Network effect, which is where the value of something increases the more people are using it (like Facebook, or, your event). We talked about this a few weeks ago, and how you can use this to make your event more appealing, and even to engage ‘promotional autopilot’ .

So I hope going back to science class has been useful for you. And in summary, the important thing is to know that the concept of critical mass applies to your events. Pay attention to it, and ask yourself these questions.

What is the critical mass point for our event?

What is a catalyst to achieve this?

Can we engage the network effect?

Can we get to critical mass sooner, and can we get the flywheel going?

If you can do your homework and answer some of these questions, you will be in an even more powerful place.

If you need some help with that, please let me know!

Also, I take much of my information from books, which I try to translate for use in our world of events. Many of the models referenced in recent weeks have been from ‘SUPER THINKING’ by Gabriel Weinberg, and TIPPING PONT is one of my all-time Malcolm Gladwell favourites. If you want a list of ‘The best books I think an event person should read’, just email me and I will send you a copy.

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andrew @ andrewoloughlin.com

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