Ooligan Press hosted its tenth Write to Publish conference in April, which is an Ooligan-run, one day conference with a mission to demystify the publishing process. This year’s conference was held in Hoffman Hall on the Portland State University campus, and I had the opportunity to work behind-the-scenes. It was my first term in the program, and I was placed on the Outreach and Development team because of my experience with event planning with Willamette Writers. It was the perfect challenge: the conference was in three weeks, I was a new student, and my role was to help as much as I could. There’s a lot that goes into making an event, whether you’re hosting a one-day event like a conference, a simple one-hour event, or an entire week’s worth of activities. What makes an event successful? These are three simple tips that will help.
Right before the conference started, we needed to pick up bagels from one of the local shops that kindly donated to us. When we arrived, we found the shop closed and no sign of any bagels. The first rule of events: go with the flow and always have a backup plan. This means that when you’re scheduling a keynote speaker, have someone in mind in case the speaker falls ill or can’t make the event. In the case of the bagels, my colleague and I did a quick check of our email and figured out that we hadn’t been told the right location for pick-up. We just jumped in the car and went to pick up our bagels. No problem.
Communication is key.
Communicate with everyone. Eventbrite’s post by author Melanie Woodward discusses communication and how crucial it is. This means lots of emails and phone calls before the event to touch base with all of the participants (panelists, speakers, volunteers, etc.), and confirming everything you can to ensure there aren’t any major surprises. For example, is there a dress code? What time should participants arrive? Who should they check in with, and where? Will there be a volunteer training session? (There should be—it increases the success of events when volunteers know what they’re doing) Even better, ask the participants if they need anything or have any questions. Nothing is worse than having a disgruntled participant because you failed to tell them something important.
It’s usually better to market more than a month before an event that will last one hour. For Willamette Writers’ large conference every year in August, we market as early as eight to nine months before the event. Start a marketing campaign. When will you post to social media outlets, and what will you say? How many newsletters will you send? At Ooligan, we’re aiming to send three or even four newsletters next year. What about marketing to alumni if you’re a college or organization? Can your panelists and participants market the event? Often, the most successful marketing comes from the professionals who participate, rather than the organization hosting the event. For example, an author will have fans who may see that they will be at an event, and attendees may go just for that author.
Events are only as strong as your plans and your organization—but remember that plans can change, so be willing to shift things quickly if need be.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more tips!