How to run an evening event

Have you ever thought you might like to run a series of evening events, but you weren't sure how to go about it? If you've got an urge to build a sense of community in your field of expertise, or if you struggle to contain your passion for knowledge and want people to share and learn with, you're probably a great candidate for becoming an evening event organiser.

She Says in Brighton

We talked to a few seasoned experts who regularly organise evening events in the UK. Hopefully, with all their hints and tips, this article should help make life as an evening events organiser easier for you or help you to get started on your way.

We'd like to thank them all for helping us out with lots of useful advice:

Contributors

What's in it for you?

"I want to gather 'my sort of folk' together, so I get the audience I want to talk to." — Ian

According to most of the organisers we spoke to, the most rewarding thing about running a regular evening event is building a sense of community and being part of new dialogues and connections. Bringing people together around a subject area, particularly if it's niche, is a great way to great way to pool knowledge and learn from other enthusiasts out there.

"I really want our events to be about sharing knowledge, asking questions, and starting a dialogue amongst peers." — Murray

"At Lanyrd we really want to encourage evening events. They are a brilliant way of learning from peers but also for finding new enthusiasm for your industry or hobby. They are incubators for that special spark of passion that reinvigorates people to learn more." — Natalie

Jane Dallaway's photo of Skillswap Brighton

Before the event

"The first time you run an event you'll need twice as much organisation time as you would think, once you've done it once though, the second time is much easier." — Andrew

If you know that you're going to be running future events, be kind to your future self and think about how best to set up templates and processes so that they're re-usable. As Arran wisely says "write everything down, schedules of upcoming events, contacts, ideas."

Natalie suggests compiling an event organiser's bag that you keep packed with everything you might need, including spare batteries, every projector connection dongle you can get on your hands on, several USB memory sticks, an extension cable and a long VGA or DVI cable.

Rifa likes to start planning two to three months in advance, which includes confirming the venue and speakers and putting the word out there. According to the people we spoke to, this seems to be a safe average.

"As soon as possible after the event we start promoting the next event even before we've got speakers sorted." — Rifa.

This forward planning means you can hang a lot of the promotion for your next event off the buzz generated from the most recent event.

You don't have to do all the organising by yourself. In fact, it's a good idea not to. You can appoint a group of co-hosts, or if you're part of a community you'll often be able to find volunteers who want to help you out. Volunteer work can include anything from selling raffle tickets, to setting out furniture or administrating your mailing list.

It's important that you give volunteers a sense of ownership and responsibility, thank them regularly. Make sure your volunteers are clear on what they're meant to be doing and trust them to get on with it. You might want to have a meeting with them to get them fired up, particularly if you're organising a long season of events. It's worth bearing in mind that if you just have a list of tasks and don't assign them, it's likely that your volunteers will assume others are working on them and things will get missed.

Volunteers are occasionally even willing to dress up

"Get your team right. Keep it small, get people you trust to care as much as you do. Make sure everyone has things to do and try to remember to thank everyone; volunteers, speakers and organisers" — Arran

When to have it?

Having your event on a regular evening (such as the first Monday of the month) means people can easily remember when it's coming up and put it in their diaries for the whole season. This also helps you with your own planning.

Lanyrd can help you avoid conflicts with similar events. Have a look on the place page for your location, for example London or San Francisco.

If you have a small community, you might want to set up a Doodle. Doodle helps you take a poll (via email) to find out which dates or days most of your community can do. Don't worry if some people can't make it.

"We want them to have it in the back of their head that it's always on the 3rd Tuesday (for example) and always in the same place. For lack of a better word, it gives you a brand." — Murray

Once you've decided on a date, add your event to Lanyrd. Even if you have no venue or other details yet, you can still start promoting your event and help other organisers in your community avoid scheduling conflicting events.

The best time of day

"What ever time you start, people will complain it's too late or too early. Your can't keep everyone happy." — Arran

As Arran says, it's difficult to choose, and depends on where you're based. If it's a big city like London, you're likely to lose people if you give them time to go home after work. The general consensus in London seems to be to have an earlier start and provide food which coaxes people into chatting.

Prem has a nice way to justify a slightly later start. This might be one to suggest to your community;

"We assume people will have an early supper before coming. And in fact, this can form part of the social activity of the community, since sometimes people self-organise a pre-Async meal together at a local restaurant." — Prem

You should consider your local audience before deciding on a time, where will they be commuting from? If it is a generally quite navigable city like London or San Francisco then straight after work at 6:30pm or 7:00pm might be best. If however there is a likelihood of people commuting in for your event, e.g. Mountain View or Oxford, consider their distance and check train times. Having your event start later might work best in these cases.

Natalie suggests working out the core hours of your event first. For example, with Oxford Geek Nights, people were likely to commute in from London so she arranged the talks to be between 8:00pm and 10:00pm, allowing the attendees (and often speakers) to catch the train and arrive on time. Being in a bar upstairs, she opened the doors early so people could come straight after work and order food if they liked. The event went on until 11:30 so people could chat about the talks if they had time before heading home.

Mingleing at Oxford geek nights

Where to go? Venues.

Whether you're a gathering of hackers or a group of philosophers, you'll probably be best choosing practicality over ambience. It's very, very important to check out a few places and speak to the people in charge of the space before you start advertising your event.

Have a think about where participants would like to gather and what fits in with your event's nature. We've known great events to happen in upstairs rooms in pubs, hotel meeting rooms, co-working spaces, sponsors' offices, or the offices of well-known local or international brands.

The venue will frame the overall feel of the event, people will be more relaxed in an informal setting which then really nicely facilitates a welcoming atmosphere for new people. If you have a local school or more formal hall, this will have a more professional air but could inhibit informal chatter.

Speaker on stage

We've pre-prepared a list of questions you might want to ask the owner of a space before you run an event:

  • Is there likely to be any disturbance or noise from other rooms?
  • How much does it cost? Or is there a voluntary contribution?
  • If it is at a bar, can you have it free if your attendees spend over a certain amount?
  • How do keys, fobs or entry systems work?
  • What's the building security like at night?
  • How many people can fit in the space?
  • Are there tea and coffee facilities? Will there be refrigerator space for milk?
  • Where are the light switches/power supplies/toilets/ kitchen facilities?
  • Are there any health and safety or security restrictions?
  • Is there a time limit such as when the building shuts down, or a particular start time?
  • Is there a projector? Are there enough tables and chairs?
  • Is there anything people mustn't touch? Can people stick things on the walls?
  • Is anyone likely to get upset about you making noise? Does anyone need warning?
  • Are there any other accessibility restrictions?

Another important consideration with venues is alcohol and accessible toilets. Are there both male and female toilets at the event? Are there any stairs or disabled toilets? If you are at a venue where there will be alcohol, is there a minimum age allowed at the venue? Ensure there are soft drinks or water available.

If your event is free, you may not have to pay for your venue. Just like sponsors, companies are often looking to promote their brands and they'll give you the space for free or at a discounted rate. Beware that pubs sometimes ask for a minimum of drink orders, or ask you to make up the difference if people don't buy enough drinks when you rent a room.

"I prefer private space by-and-large. You don't have to worry about noise from other people in the space and the tech setup is always a lot better." — Arran

"I try to optimise for conversations, find an informal and welcoming space and allow plenty of conversation time." — Natalie

Formats and getting speakers

"Getting great speakers is the most important task, it will make or break your evening" — Andrew

Most organisers approach speakers directly, rather than waiting for offers. If you ask for a specific talk, on a specific theme you're much more likely to get a 'yes'. Most organisers we spoke to suggested that stating a theme helps attendees identify whether it's going to be relevant to their interests — and that you'll get more attendees as a result.

"If I do a little bit of research and approach people directly to ask them to talk about something specific that they've done, I get quicker responses and more of them" — Murray

A fun format that works well are Lightning Talks. These are a collection of short, five minute talks. They are appealing to inexperienced speakers and allow you to pack a lot of varied information and a greater quantity of speakers into your evening.

At Oxford Geek Nights, Natalie found two keynotes of 15 minutes each, followed by between four and six lightning talks (which they called Microslots) was a good format. She used a Wufoo form to collect volunteers for the lightning talks alongside having some invited guests.

Don't forget, once you have your Wufoo form or Google survey, add your calls for proposals to your Lanyrd listing. This will help get the word out that you are looking.

Other formats for evening events might mean not having speakers at all. Sometimes it can be fruitful to involve the whole community in round-table discussion, debates, quizzes or even board games. Again, you could ask your community what they'd be most interested in, perhaps by using a short Google survey.

Oxford geek night microslot form

Promoting your event

If you've got your date and venue confirmed and at least some of your speakers, it's time to set up your ticketing system and promote yourself.

In order to get your promotions right, you need to look at:

  • Your existing community (this is the easy one)
  • The people out there that don't know about you yet

First things first, add your event to Lanyrd. People can then start to track it or plan-to-attend it. As they do this, your event will be emailed to a wider audience and will appear on the suggested calendar of events for anyone who follows them on Twitter. This helps news of your event to spread virally.

Word of mouth is your best friend, but you can't rely on it alone. A great community-building event is one that reaches out and finds people that are looking for you. Once people find you, you will need to set up ticketing. Most event organisers we know use Eventbrite or Amiando. Lanyrd recently launched integration with Eventbrite so you can now have their ticketing widget on your Lanyrd event page.

Here are some other suggestions on ways to promote your event:

  • Gather your co-organisers' address books together and email all your friends and colleagues
  • Set up a twitter account and Facebook page for the event, promote it, check it and retweet it with your own account
  • Invite people personally (particularly in the beginning)
  • Blog regularly before the event, link people to your Lanyrd event and try to encourage them to track or attend
  • Perhaps even run a competition for a free ticket to give out to someone tracking your event
  • Set up a website like Trevor's Multipack or a hub like Prem's Async
  • Trevor sends out a monthly newsletter where to remind Multipack subscribers (Try Mailchimp or Campaign Monitor for this)
  • Post out notifications to local mailing lists (Prem posts to local interest groups and co-working spaces)
  • Physical posters in local community hangouts such as cafes, libraries, co-working spaces etc. (Rifa)
  • Depending on your event you might want to advertise in traditional press, or send press releases to tv, radio, local newspapers, etc
An example event page

Sponsorship

If you're running a free event in a free space, you don't necessarily need to think about sponsorship, most organisers manage without it. If you do decide to go down the sponsorship route it might mean you can afford a more luxurious venue, or food and drink for your attendees, but beware that dealing with sponsorship money is going to give you a whole lot more administration.

It's good manners to pay your speakers' travel expenses, and if you are in a self-service venue, money for beers can be handy. A small amount of sponsorship can be worth the extra administration.

Sometimes companies want to sponsor events for brand exposure or to try and recruit, so you might suggest that they give it to you in a practical form, such as a venue, raffle prizes, or food and drink for the attendees. Sometimes sponsors put their card behind the bar at the after-event pub so that everyone can have a round of drinks.

Make sure you thank, mention and credit your sponsors whenever possible. It's worth having your desktop background or an extra presentation slide with sponsor logos on for extra promotion during the breaks and speaker change overs, as well as before and after the event

"Multipack and Geek in the Park are both sponsored, mostly to cover food, but also help with venue costs. We mainly look to local web companies for sponsorship, usually people from companies who attend." — Trevor

During the event

Setting up

Getting the room ready can mean arranging or re-arranging the furniture, digging out and setting up projectors, setting out the drinks, and setting up an official table that welcomes people. Ask your volunteers to arrive early to help you set up, put up signs and so that you can brief them on their tasks for the evening.

Make sure you have enough time to get it all sorted out as well as time to have a cup of tea and a rest before the event starts. That way you're not welcoming arrivals with sweaty palms and a flustered demeanour.

If you're using someone else's space and you need to put it back the way you found it at the end, it's a great idea to take pictures on your phone of the way you find it when you come in. This can also help you prevent or resolve any disputes about untidiness.

Make sure people can find your event by adding the venue to your Lanyrd page and on your website. Prominent signs will help you get your events started on time and with less interruption from lost latecomers.

"Expect things to go wrong and keep £50 in your pocket." — Arran

Drew's photo of pre-talk prep

Making people feel at home

Rifa has a team of six women who make people feel welcome when they arrive. She says;

"We spot women who've come along alone, we welcome them into the fold and introduce them to other members".

Depending on how formal or informal your event is, you might want to set up a reception desk or a welcome table, or if it's just an informal pub or cafe meeting you may want to appoint a couple of 'welcomers'.

If you do decide to have reception area — here's a useful checklist of things that you might want to greet people with when they come through the door:

  • Offer sticky badges or lanyards for people to write their names on
  • Have a sheet for recording names for the mailing list or a bowl for people to put business cards in
  • Give away any goodies you can afford or think of
  • Have a few stacks of promotional materials
  • Sell raffle tickets
  • Have something pretty that fits in with your brand like flowers, cupcakes, pizza or prizes

In terms of keeping people happy, sustaining the community network and making sure they return, you may want to club together with other organisations to promote their events — you could offer people their leaflets at the reception table or do a round of 'parish announcements' at the end of your session.

Cupcakes from cupcake camp

Where to go from here?

"Just start: start small and start now. Tell everyone you know, and keep telling them." — Prem

Well, it's in your hands now. Good luck with your event! Do keep us updated on how useful this set of guidelines has been for you. Let us know if we’ve missed anything too. Oh, and don't forget to put your event up on Lanyrd!

Anthony Killeen commented…

Great post! I've been organising a similar monthly 'pub meet up' in Croydon (http://croydoncreativ.es) for the last year or so and recently thought about taking it a step further. This has given me some nice advice and ideas.

Thank you.

Commented at 10:06am on 22nd June 2012

Anthony Williams commented…

Do it, Ant. It's easier than it sounds – and once you've got your core attendees coming back, it starts organising itself, and people start taking ownership of the meetup, which is really handy. Leampack (Multipack Leamington) has been going for a few years now, which is nuts when I think about it, and I've been taking a bit of an organising sabbatical to spend time with our family's newest arrival, my second son. Do it – and I promise, next time I'm down that way, I'll come along to a CC night!

Commented at 2:09pm on 4th July 2012

Bernie J Mitchell commented…

What a great round up! This is a good "all in one post" to send to team mates to get them on the same page. Gathering events ideas from future attendees is something I have been doing more in the last year. It is great for building the community and better web and mobile apps make it even more exciting for getting that interaction going.

Commented at 9:35pm on 30th August 2012

You need to sign in to comment on this entry

When

Time 2:04pm

Date 21st June 2012

Share

Stay in the loop

Subscribe to our blog

Stay in the moment

Follow us on Twitter