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The cues you can use

I’ve had lot’s of questions from people looking to create rituals around their events. And so I hope these final steps in the 4-part series helps you too.

In the past weeks we’ve followed the work of James Clear, and his record-breaking book on habit formation, and as James discovered there are 5 primary ways that a new habit can be triggered. As you will see, these link closely to how we approach Experience Design.

HABIT DESIGN is influenced by:


EXPERIENCE DESIGN is influenced by:

TIME – the moments and milestones PEOPLE – who is involved PLACES – where is it EVENTS – what it is EXPERIENCES – what we do, think and feel. In essence, events are about PEOPLE, coming together to share an EXPERIENCE, at a TIME and PLACE. When we design or redesign an event, we should focus on these core elements, to see what influence we can have in our events.

So, let’s look at how these 5 elements can be applied to creating event rituals.

Cue 1: Time

As James Clear calls out using the influence of Time is perhaps the most common way to trigger a new habit, and, it is the same with rituals.

Milestones in our day provoke rituals. Like bedtime cues us to clean our teeth. Milestones in our year act as ‘temporal landmarks’, cueing us to do certain things at certain times (like our birthday cues cake eating!). And like milestones in our lives, when we reach a particular age it cues us do certain things (e.g. start school, buy a car, have a mid life crisis… retire, etc).

So, it is worth understanding what milestones will act as cues for your market. The time of their lives, in their year, and in their days.

Studies have shown people tick off certain event experiences at certain ages. For example, there is twice the chance of someone running their first marathon at age 29, than at 28! So, if your event is pitched as a ‘bucket list’ experience then you might want to target those having ‘special birthdays’.

Across the year, people take cues at certain times, like New Year’s Eve cues certain behaviour, and even the start of the week cues certain activities. So, think about when are the good times to be promoting your ‘new rituals’ – your event and activities? And during our days, studies show that when we receive cues is critical. So, it is worth understanding when your audience will be receptive to your cues, for example when you should be sending out your emails and social posts.

It is the same on event days, so knowing when to make an impact is critical. Understanding the ‘moments that matter’ for your audience means that you can have the greatest influence, at the right times. For example, the start of an event is often the only time you have everyone’s attention at the same time, which is a good time to get a ritual going. The starts, ends, and important moments in the middle are all necessary to identify, so that you can focus your finite resources optimally, and you will have more chance of rituals emerging.


We found by studying participation events there were 12 consistent moments of impact that we needed to facilitate to make sure participants were ‘cued’ through their journey.

Cue 2: The Place (Location)

When you walk into an event, the space you enter is a very powerful influence on how you will behave.

I remember walking into the Galatasaray Football Stadium, with 80,000 ravenous fans chanting, standing on their seats, flares alight, while machine gun totting police watched on. That was quite a different experience to the week before at Lords Cricket Ground. The acceptable behaviour in each stadium was vastly different, and we all acted accordingly!

Likewise walking into a Basketball venue in Melbourne will provide different cues to the Rugby match across the road. And even the same stadium, a different set up will provide an immensely different vibe. Marvel Stadium hosted the UFC fight last week, and it was quite a different atmosphere to the basketball a few weeks ago, or to the footy, the cricket, or a concert. It is because we all act in line with what the place tells us is the OK way to behave.

No atmosphere or behaviour is necessarily right or better, but the main point is, you need to design the place, to provide the cues, that promote the behaviour you want. And importantly, creating the behaviour your audience wants. For example, Netball does this extremely well, they provide the props, the music, the calls to action, to promote the rituals!

Remember, venues come with a script, which you can write.

In James Clears opinion, environment is the most powerful driver of mindless habits and also the least recognized. In many cases, our rituals are simply a response to the environment that surrounds us.

Cue 3: Other People

As I’ve called out before, the people around us play a critical role in what we do. So, if your trying to develop new rituals, either attending your event, or actions within your event, getting people to influence each other in the key.

I always remember Seth Godin’s mantra “PEOPLE LIKE US, DO THINGS LIKE THIS”.

For example, walking into the same venue for a netball match, can be quite different to a darts event. Why? Well for one, the audience differs. Yes, parts of the environment may have changed, the look and feel, but that often also comes from the people. In the example of Marvel Stadium above, the cues of lighting, music etc all influence the rituals of the fans, but it was the fans themselves which heavily influenced what was normal behaviour.

Cue 4: People’s Experiential states

Once we have our fans in a certain state, they are much more likely to respond to the cues we put to them. For example, once we get that all important ‘atmosphere’ going, then our fans are much more likely to participate in our rituals. Have you ever tried to get the Marcarana going early in the day at your event – it can be a tough crowd!

And as proof at the other extreme, when fans aren’t in a good state, the cues between them can set them off in an undesirable direction.

Being aware of the likely emotional state of your audience when you’re doing you planning – and their actual state during your event – is crucial in making your cues hit the mark.

Cue 5: Previous Events

Many rituals are a response to something else that happens e.g. your going to make a call, but a notification pops up on your phone. You check that, and end up on Facebook, not making the call you were going to! This is just one of hundreds of examples of how your actions today, large and small are triggered by a preceding event.

It’s the same with Fans attending events. What happened at the last event will be a massive cue as to whether they will come again, and if they do, what they do.

And events within events cue us to do things. What has just happened on the field, on stage, or in the fans around them will be huge drivers in what they do next. So you can try and work off these events, to use them as cues to influence how people react at your event. Your run sheet can act like a script for rituals to emerge.

So, how do we use this?

Stealing again from the habit formation playbook, we can write our run sheets so they act as prompts to desired reactions.

James Clears recipe for to get a desired behaviour happening is to script something you want to DO, at a TIME and PLACE. It is a simple recipe, which can create automatic, and repeatable results.

The Habit Creation formula…

“I will [BEHAVIOUR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION]”

Our Ritual Creation formula…

“At [TIME] in [LOCATION] our fans/participants will [DESIRED BEHAVIOUR]”

A simple example to guide a Run Sheet:

At the end of the match, our fans in the grandstand, will sing our new team song.

And then, using the influence of events, we can ‘habit (or ritual) stack’. That is, after we do one thing, we habitually lead into another.

The Habit stacking formula


The Ritual creation formula…

After [CURRENT HABIT] our fans will [NEW RITUAL] At [TIME] in [LOCATION] our fans will [DESIRED BEHAVIOUR] .

A simple example to guide a Run Sheet:

After the final siren, we will play our team song. So that at the end of the match, our fans in the grandstand, will sing our new team song.

These are both just simple examples, but show how you can decide on a desired rituals, and put a plan in place to help that happen. What you then need to do is provide the specific cues in your run sheet, the Time, the Location, the People involved, and other Events that will act as cues (such as music, host announcements etc, etc).

A specific example of a cue prompting a desired response is in the placing your merchandise at entry and exit points of your event. Sales increase if your cues are at strategic locations, and are received at opportune times.

We can use these steps in many ways and it is one of the easiest ways to get your audience to do something. To promote an activity, to buy something, to attend the next match. Creating repeatable rituals will be very valuable for you. As they say, the best predictor of future behaviour, is past behaviour. If you make it easy to repeat something, your fans are highly likely to do it.

It all comes down to experience

Once we have delivered a great event experience, your prompt to join in again is much more likely to be well received. I guess when it all said and done, producing a great event, is the greatest cue to influence someone.

If you need some help with that, let me know.

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