I have always enjoyed participating and organizing events wherever I’ve been. Back in Kentucky I had organized computer equipment donations throughout the region, and video-gaming activities for youth. In Chile I use to dress up as Santa to hand out gifts, and in 2010 when the earthquake hit, I provided network assistance wherever I could within my small town.
Here in Finland I spent much of my time leading a student committee. At our peak we were organizing nearly a hundred events a year with solid participation throughout.
Coming in as students with no background in event management we would have a lot to learn. From budgeting, advertising and organizing an event, a lot of effort went in. As we experimented with what worked or didn’t we refined the way we organized events or approached problems.
It was a fantastic couple of years, with international trips, language courses, and performances from professional fire dancers.
After graduation I decided to help put on one last event to start off the new academic year. A pancake dinner. An event that turned out great. Hundreds grabbed a bite to eat, and more importantly, met their new neighbors and friends. It’s a simple event, but it gives good insight into what it takes to get something going.
Let’s get started!
The points we will go through pertain to just about any event or activity. Let’s start with the idea. What is your end goal? and how can you accomplish it?
As established earlier, we want to get students out to meet their neighbors and new friends. Food brings people together, and is especially appetizing to the hungry student. So why a pancake dinner? why not hotdogs? or muffins? Part of it is to understand what your limitations are and who your patrons will be. You’re serving hundreds, are muffins practical? Does anyone eat muffins for dinner? Unlikely.
Hot Dogs are quick, easy and tasty, and would seem like a good enough idea. Living among students you are often surrounded by a diverse crowd. You might have neighbors who will only eat certain types of meat, or none at all for varying cultural or ethical reasons. It’s important to try to accommodate where possible; remember that our focus here is to use food as a means to bring people together. You might not be able to always accommodate everyone, maybe someone has a gluten allergy, or can’t eat eggs. Provide options where you can, and welcome guests to bring their own food.
As an organization you need to budget. We would receive funding every six months, it would be a shame to blow through it in the first month. Not to any surprise, money is easy to spend.
It’s important early on that decisions are made to how funding will be spent. Apart from a bi-annual budget, understanding what will be needed for whatever event you are putting on is crucial.
What do you need for a pancake dinner? Pancakes of course. But how will you make them? howwill you serve them? 500 servings of pancakes takes plenty of eggs, milk, butter, and flour. But mixing pancake batter isn’t enough, we have to cook them.
We’d need half a dozen pans and butane stove tops. Plates to serve on and forks to eat with. Maybe we want some toppings? Chocolate, maple syrup and peanut butter. and what about location? Do you have a venue? Or will you need to rent a space? It all adds up, and should be calculated before hand.
So we’ve decided to cook up some pancakes outdoors in our neighborhood. Simplicity is key, what are people here for? Pancakes and chit-chat. The rest comes secondary. It’s nice to have lighting installed along with a warm fire – but don’t let it distract you from setting up the main event.
We want to be able to get out and start flipping pancakes right away. Remember we’ve got 500 servings to make. In order for the evening to start right away, we’ll prepare 50 litres of batter the night before.
On the day of the event, food is gone as fast as it is made. Butane burners will run throughout the night. Toppings are left for patrons to use, as volunteers focus pouring batter into pans.
The absolutely most important aspect to any event is advertising. It can be tedious work, but is the difference between 5 or 500 attendants.
Traditional websites and social media are one of the many tools you need to use. You might be tempted to create an event on Facebook and forget it, but this is not enough. Social media requires constant updates up until and during said event. We get flooded with ads and invites, making a single event invitation forgettable.
Posters on bulletin boards and near areas your target audience will see is incredibly effective. While you sit in the laundry room you will read what you can get your eyes on, even if it’s a crummy poster on the wall.
Go door to door. This is something that needs to be done cautiously; few people enjoy being disturbed in the privacy of their own home. We would only go door to door at the beginning of an academic year, when new students were eager to make new friends and join in on any activity.
Knocking on each door would add legitimacy to our activities, while a personal invitation often guaranteed attendance. If you prefer not to meet people face to face, direct mail advertising is an option. Drop an ad in every mail box.
As high-tech of a world we live in, it’s important to realize that online invitations and advertising is simply not enough. Traditional advertising methods still have their place, especially when used in combination with online mediums.
Knowing who and where your target audience is, is just as important as advertising itself. It’s easy to get a large crowd, but it’s harder to get the crowd you want. Our focus would be our residents, trying to figure out what we could do to bring our neighbors out.
Don’t overlook advertising! A well-organized event with no people is no fun.
The same goes for anything really. I won’t buy the product I don’t know exists, or subscribe to a service I haven’t heard about.
In the end a good event is where new friends are made. Whether it be pancakes, a cruise, or simply a party. We learn a little bit about each other, and have a good time with those around us.