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| Article Specs|
Article ID: 2839
Age Group: Adult
Posted: June 15th. 2000
Hosting a Festival, Gathering or Lecture
by Patricia Telesco
There are moments in many a neo-pagan's life that we think serendipitously that we can do it "better" than someone else... that our vision of a festival will work marvelously and become an immediate success. Think again.
Creating a festival that works at all the first time out is, in itself, a huge challenge. Creating one that's repeatedly successful an doesn't put the coordinator(s) in the poor house is almost a miracle. Why?
Financing: Pagans are notorious for not making reservations, meaning most of the pre-event expenses are out of pocket
Finding enough speakers and a good site is no small task
Finding other necessities like showers and port a potties is also difficult
Getting reliable entertainment without spending a fortune... well, you get the picture
Finding staff -- hummm staff that's (a) wise, (b) professional, (c) prompt, and (d) knowledgeable takes time and effort, not to mention good networking skills
Advertising for the event effectively is no cup of tea
Realizing that no matter what you do someone will complain, well that's just a given
And I know for a fact that I've overlooked a lot here (that event coordinators will fill me in on later, and that information will be added to this article with my thanks).
With all those problems in mind, why the heck would any of us want this job? Well, for some it's an ego thing, but one would hope that the real reason is to serve the community... to build tribe... to encourage spiritual learning. Let's be optimistic for a moment and base the rest of this article on the second set of reasons. Say no amount of dissuasion will work... and you go ahead and try to host a lecture or gathering, what exactly do you need to do?
Have financing. It's not uncommon for events to run under budget for the first few tries, so don't go putting a second mortgage on the house! As I said before, I'm sure that I left things out that experienced festival coordinators will share with me, but this is at least a good starting point. Should you decide to embark on such an undertaking, I wish you well and thank you in advance for the service this provides to our community.
Make a budget and stick to it as close as possible. If you'd like a BNP (big name Pagan), and think you cannot afford one, it never hurts to ask anyway. Tell them in advance about your budget constraints and you'll be surprised by the feedback you get.
Consider timing carefully for your region. If you have a bunch of college students around, for example, don't hold the event when they're on break!
Along the same lines, consider the timing of any other events in your area. Put your event on a date that makes sense -- at least one week after other major events.
Plan ahead! To get that time slot with a hall or campground you will want a minimum of a year's lead time. Some people may say 6 months, but I personally think giving yourself a year to prepare is wiser (this is like putting on a really big wedding, and we always give those a year!).
Network your butt off. Call in favors, ask for people to put up regular announcements on websites, make fliers and put them in the New Age books at your local bookstore, and run an add in a local artsy journal. If people don't know about your event they cannot attend.
Always have a back up plan. Life happens to everyone and there will be times when the headline speaker will have to cancel. This is one of the reasons a lot of events have several "focus points" -- so that even if one person doesn't make it or has to leave early, there's still plenty for everyone to do.
Get a reliable staff and DELIGATE specific tasks to each person. One person should never try to handle an event alone -- yes, it can be done but often at great expense.
Create a timetable for everything. For example: when will the first announcement go out? When will a second? By when do you want to have a speaker specified? What's the cut off date for merchants? Organization is perhaps the most important factor to a good event along with having good people behind it.
Determine how you will handle merchants. Will there be a fee for merchants? Will there be specific spaces they can get in advance of arriving on site?
Determine how to handle registration before the event and at the door. Will you charge more for latecomers, for example? This means you have to try and figure out how many people to expect at the event and then price the event accordingly to try and break even. Underestimate to be safe. If you're not sure what to expect, ask the speaker if they have any reliable guideline.
Determine the event's ground rules and publish them in advance of the event so no one can say "they didn't know." Include these in the event brochure.
Determine how problems and breaches of conduct will be handled (in other words when do you just chastize someone and when do you toss them off site?)
Maintain meticulous records of inquiries, with whom you've networked, what contract proposals for a site have been received, reservations, monies spent, etc. Trust me: If you don't do this, you WILL BE SORRY.
If possible, have a lawyer review any contract you plan to sign for a site. Hotels in particular are notorious for not (a) delivering what they promise or (b) charging more than what the contract seems to imply. This happens especially if the staff shifts between obtaining a contract and the event itself.
Determine how security and emergency medical care will be handled. These are two essentials to any event that protect everyone.
If it's a camping event -- scope out the site thoroughly before campers arrive and tape off any areas deemed unsafe for whatever reason. If you're not sure, get someone who can help you.
Have contingency plans -- if the weather looks inclimate for a camping event (seriously so) to where will you direct people?
Have a layout of the region for those who attend -- this will allow them to go out for lunch, laundry or site seeing!
Have an accurate list of events and information for interested parties and attendees, including if your event is wheelchair accessible.
Include your merchants in your brochure so people can contact them later. Ditto this for speakers and staff members (hey, it's nice to get a thank you!)
Consider whether or not you will offer work passes or reduced rates for people with verifiable financial needs
Let people know if pets are allowed on site or if permission is required.
If a camping site -- let people know in your advertising about things like showers and the availability of electricity or anything else that might effect health and safety (like having clean water!).
If there is a limit to the number of attendees that can come, this should also be published.
Follow up with the site owners at least 6 weeks prior to an event to make sure everything is in order (if possible ask them to designate a point person that will handle everything rather than be routed around to 10 different people).
Provide staff with all the information they need to do jobs effectively. For example, if someone is running registration, make sure they have a list of people who pre-registered and the amounts paid! If someone is running security, make sure they have a staff and an effective means of communication.
Make a good schedule for the event to follow. Don't overlap speakers (this makes people choose between two equally appealing options) if possible, and don't schedule speakers too close to the time when they fly in to your event (Airlines are NOT depenable). Don't forget to have contingency plans in place -- ask for volunteer "fill ins" at the registration table.
Publish a menu (if applicable) to avoid allergy problems with attendees.
Be on site and set up well in advance of when you expect people to begin arriving. You will need a little down time before the chaos begins.
Make sure your presenters have transportation, lodging, and food -- some will need to be picked up from the airport and if they've been delayed will be very hungry.
Keep communication on-going with all members of the staff throughout the event. It helps to have a daily meeting to review issues and problems and SOLVE them
Let people do their jobs. Too much management is just a big a problem as too little.
Keep notes of what works and what doesn't (including staff members who were wonderful, and those who didn't do their jobs). This will help make future events more successful.
Try to have some fun. If you've chosen a good staff and put all the organizational pieces in place, you should have a few moments here and there to enjoy the event you've worked hard to create.
The Witches' Voice
June 15th., 2000
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Location: Amherst, New York
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