Prior to the pandemic, Jon Levy was best known as the founder of the Influencers Dinner, a regular roving dinner party of A-listers — strangers to each other — pulled from different industries. The location would be revealed shortly before the event, and there were a few ground rules: Everyone would cook dinner together, and no one could reveal their last name or where they worked.
It was all very mysterious.
“There would always be this moment where people arrive for the cocktail hour,” says Levy, a behavioral scientist and author of the new book, “You’re Invited: The Art and Science of Cultivating Influence.” “And they invariably say, ‘Do you mind if I call my wife? I just want to tell her I still have my kidneys.’ ” Past guests have included Nobel laureates, Olympic athletes, executives, scientists, and the Grammy-winning voice of the bark from “Who Let the Dogs Out.”
This past year, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone to their Zoom squares to socialize digitally, Levy realized that virtual events can be rewarding — they just have to be planned differently.
“When TV came out, the answer to programming wasn’t to have people reading soap operas. The new platform created a new way to engage, and that’s the same with digital,” he explains. “When we design our events, we design the experiences to focus on you, the individual, so you feel you’re connecting with people. We start off by putting people in breakout rooms to meet each other. The key is not to leave people to interview each other. Humans do best when there’s a shared effort or activity. If I give you a puzzle to figure out or an icebreaker game, that’s really important. These games cause a shared investment of effort. Now you’re a team.”
Levy’s work as a behavioral scientist focuses on influence and human connection, never more important than in the current times.
“I really value bringing people together. And when you look at the research, people are getting lonelier and more isolated,” says Levy. “I’m all for people earning more money and having nice things, but it just doesn’t carry the day. And [by writing this], I was hoping that if I worked hard enough, we can begin to shift the cultural conversation about what gives people a higher quality of life.”
Check out jonlevytlb.com/games for several different examples of activities to be played at virtual events.