The Power of Secrecy and 6 Events Using It Successfully

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not to know

What’s so special about secrets? Why do we love vital details such as date and time or location of an event? This post looks at the power of keeping a secret and why event professionals should use it more to wow attendees.

The Power of Secrecy and 6 Events Using It Successfully

So what’s the deal about keeping a secret? My curious brain freaks out whenever a planner keeps a secret about the event. I want to know so bad about it that my interest for the event raises through the roof.

Keeping secrets and secrecy in general is often associated with bad feelings. Yet the angle of this post is to look at the relationship between secrets and surprises in a positive spirit and within legal and moral boundaries.

Not All Surprises Were Created Equal

Unveiling secrets usually surprises people. This could be a positive, a neutral or a negative surprise. When looking at events, poor planning usually leads to negative surprises. Secrets are kept in the hope that attendees won’t notice. That is bad and has to be avoided at all costs.

On the other hand, carefully planned and kept secrets may lead to positive surprises. The academia linked positive surprises to a number of desired marketing outcomes every event professional is looking for:

Derbaix and Vanhamme concluded that surprises have a positive influence on word of mouth.

Oliver also found a positive correlation between positive surprises and customer delight (while customer satisfaction is the objective of mediocre business, customer delight is the new predicament of modern marketing).

Wetzel et al talked about the role of positive surprises as igniters of affective commitments (the type of commitment that increases engagement and satisfaction).

Not All Events Should Have Secrets

A secret that stimulates a positive reaction is usually agreed with the attendee. It is part of the concept of the event. It is blatantly obvious and prospective attendees are aware of it.

Keeping attendees in the dark of major elements of the event without consent, may in fact impact the perception of the experience.

Another element to keep in mind is that not all attendees love secret and surprises. Events that want to engage with secrecy should have a very close relationship with their audience as Andrew Thomas of Olgivy stresses.

So let’s look at some events making secrecy the core element of their concept and how they managed to enthuse crowds around the world.


Gingerline events are dinners with a secret spot along the London Underground (Subway) as a venue.

They have successfully run events for four years, more than 10,000 attendees enjoyed dinners around the London track.

Their process is as follows:

HowItWorks v3

Here is a video from one of the events:

If you can’t se the video, click here.


– Secret alone is not enough. The event is also an enjoyable dinner experience with great food.
– Safety is taken care at all times, attendees know who to contact should things not go as planned.

Sleep No More

Sleep No More is probably one of the most popular interactive theatre night you will ever come across.

Punchdrunk managed to transform the theatrical experience into an immersive event, blurring the boundaries between the audience and performers.

This is how Wikipedia describes it:

Sleep No More tells the story of Macbeth, though the audience is given no programme and there is no speaking from either the actors or audience. The actors (unlike the audience members) wear no masks and perform in passionate, silent, interpretive group settings, solitary scenes, and, sometimes, dance sequences.

Audience members are instructed to remain silent and masked at all times once they have boarded the hotel’s elevator up until the time they return to the Manderley Bar; however, they may move freely at their own pace for up to three hours, choosing where to go and what to see, so that everyone’s journey is unique; they may also exit the premises at any point.

Audience members may thus follow one or any of the actors throughout the performance, or they may independently explore the many rooms of the building; in groups or alone. Recorded music plays steadily throughout the building at all times.

The secret here is the actual performance. While most are familiar with the Macbeth, everyone will ignore the unexpected results of the interaction between the audience and the performers. Have a look a this video from the event:

Can’t see the video? Click here.


– Ask you performers to interact with your audience to create a sense of unexpected, secret performance
– Choose venues that allow the interaction between audience and performers.

Wunderlust Projects – The Future of Conference Hijacking

The concept of conference hijacking scares the s£#% out of me and excites me beyond belief at the same time. This crazy crew put together an unauthorised concert during the Future of Storytelling Summit.

They handed handwritten invites to convey in the tunnel system of the venue, former sailors’ retirement home, Snug Harbour.

They managed to convince the official band of the event to leave the stage and perform for a selected audience.


– Unauthorized does not sound good at all. Yet you can circulate alternative smaller events in disguise during your main show. If you are flexible enough you can turn the usual social programme into a mysterious adventure.

Wunderlust – Night Heron

Night Heron is not happening anymore and that is partially good as it was mostly illegal. But you can find inspiration in how Wunderslust thought about the event.

The venue is an abandoned building in Manhattan where attendees are sneaked in. This is the bad bit. The nice bit is what happens during the event. Here is the New Yorker coverage of it:

Each pair of guests at the Night Heron is sponsored by a previous pair: the invitations, at two hundred and fifty dollars per couple, are issued in the form of a pocket watch and a phone number to call for instructions. The crowd on a recent evening (six couples) included the owner of two gay night clubs; a twenty-five-year-old Dutch gallery worker, who had brought her roommate as a birthday present; and a young couple from Hoboken. “We have a seven-month-old, and this is the first time we’ve gotten a babysitter,” the woman said, looking a little dazed. A pair of musicians from the Gypsy punk band Amour Obscur performed on a stage, mounted halfway up the tower, that was barely big enough for the double-bass.

While this feels like a fashion stunt, there are definitely some good pointers.


– Try to detach attendees from reality, make them feel like they are in a movie.
– Make choices that may go against conventions and traditions to surprise and disrupt attendees (ALWAYS within legal boundaries).

Diner en Blanc

This event, which is not so secret anymore, managed to captivate the interest of audiences from around the world.

Diner en Blanc resembles more a secret society than a secret event. We covered this secret dinner a while ago.

Started by François Pasquier over 20 years ago, the Dîner en Blanc (literally “Dinner in White”) is a gathering of thousands of like minded folks willing to have a picnic dressed in white.

Around 15,000 participated to each dinner in Paris. Venues included the Tour Eiffel and Louvre Pyramid.

Attendance is granted via a strict registration process that involves being referred by someone who attended and signing up to a waiting list. If you manage to get in, you commit to attend regardless of the weather conditions and rigorously dressed in white.

The venue is secret until few hours before the event. See a video of the New York Diner en Blanc in 2012:

Can’t see the video? Click here.


– When dealing with secrecy make your attendees feel part of a movement or a club. That will make them more responsible towards their commitment.

– Be precise with your requirement, extravagant dressing could be one of them. Try to appeal to the creative side of your guest, let them experiment and go out of their persona.

Secret RSVP and Secret App

Serendipity has alway been a key component of networking and dating. For several commentators social networks were going to be the killer app of these popular formats. Yet networking and matchmaking events are living a new life, fuelled by social networks.

Secret RSVP is a captivating concept that lets you invite people you are interested in dating to a custom made event. The twist is that nobody will know who invited whom. Attendees create guest lists and only those who’ve been invited can invite.

The same is happening with the popular app Secret, a popular app to posts and updates with your friends, but anonymously. It turns out Secret users are meeting over dinners.

The cool thing is that everyone invited know they are friends of friends but don’t know who they are. You can hide your public persona and be who you truly are.


– Planned serendipity exists and it’s a clear winner. Secrecy builds momentum, randomness builts anger.
– Technology and apps are great tools to build secrecy and events are the perfect opportunity to unveil the secret.

In Conclusion

Secrecy is a powerful beast but has to be handled with care. You don’t want to push the envelope too far and want make sure you operate within legal boundaries.

If correctly handled secrecy can positively surprise and delight your customers, stimulate word of mouth and raise the engagement with your event.

Secrecy in events makes us feel someone different, frees us from the norm of society and stimulates our curios brain.

I hope you’ll give it a go at your next event and remember not to share this post, it’s a secret!