I just made it back to the office after attending a family reunion. What a great time!  When you have 42 people from four generations living under one roof, the action is truly nonstop.

Our activities included a midnight doughnut making party, a ping pong tournament, a serious game of kickball in the rain, a campfire with s’mores, swimming, racing to the top of a climbing wall, a family talent show, a biggest biceps competition, themed meals, and – making its debut at this year’s reunion – a Bob Ross paint-off!

(Just in case you aren’t familiar with Bob Ross, his show, The Joy of Painting, ran on public television during the 80s and 90s. He painted lots of happy little trees, clouds and rocks.)

We split into two teams for the paint-off – it was the men versus the women. We changed painters every three minutes. Stopping the video wasn’t allowed. You either kept up with Bob or fell behind. The paint-off was a ton of fun and included many time-honored elements that make any event a success.

The Unexpected Makes People Curious

Anytime you offer people the opportunity to do something truly unique or do something for the first time, the experience becomes memorable and creates buzz. How could anyone resist participating in a Bob Ross paint-off? Most people over the age of 35 have marveled at how quickly he can produce almighty mountains and happy little trees, but few people have ever tried to paint along with him.  It was a memorable first for everyone at our reunion.

People Will Participate if They’re Comfortable

If people feel comfortable at an event, they’ll participate in the activities. If they don’t feel comfortable, they’ll be wallflowers, bystanders, or onlookers. For the Bob Ross paint-off, it was well understood by everyone at the reunion that no one – no matter how artistically inclined – could realistically be expected to keep up with Bob.  By the same token, it was well understood by everyone at the reunion that no one – no matter how lacking in artistic talent – could be responsible for ruining his or her team’s painting, since we all knew from the get-go we would fall short of Bob’s masterful execution.  What made so many people comfortable participating in the paint-off, even though it meant spending some time in the often dreaded limelight, was the shared understanding that we were all “in the same boat” – that is, woefully inadequate compared to Bob.

You Can’t Make Everyone Happy

Even though the Bob Ross paint-off was a pretty unique event with no reasonable possibility for failure or embarrassment, a few people didn’t want to participate.  Maybe they were afraid of getting paint on their clothes or needed a nap.  Whatever.  That’s fine. It’s impossible to plan an event that everyone on the entire planet would enjoy. Imagine trying to do that for a live music festival. Your lineup would end up including everything from Imagine Dragons to George Strait on the same stage.

Instead, identify your core audience and put on an event they will love. Just before the start of the Bob Ross paint-off, my humorous brother-in-law raised his hand and made a little speech that went something like this: “I would just like to say that there have been few times in my life when I’ve been as excited about something as I am about this paint-off right now.” Now, any event designed to cater to everyone will not engender that kind of enthusiasm from anyone.

The Outcome

Watching the family’s first-ever Bob Ross paint-off unfold was highly entertaining. All of the participants, including some as young as nine and others as wise as 71, were fully engaged. Team members were supportive of one another. Quiet people came out of their shells. The men won this time around, but we all agreed both paintings contained some impressive features. The paint-off was a great family reunion event and would be just as hilarious for a couples party or a company-sponsored team building party.  And in case you’re wondering how the paintings turned out . . .