Thursday, May 18, 2017

So you've lost your mind and want to plan a conference/event...

It was the busiest of times, it was the busiest of times...

More than a few people were surprised to find that the bulk of the conference planning/execution had been done by Glenna Jo Christen and I. Work that should take a team of 5-10 people...we scrambled to make it happen (with delegated help to some individuals, like Bill Christen or my Dad) In hindsight, we will be adding more to our team for next year, but I'm a strong supporter of the "less is more" idea. Plenty of people are wondering how we made this happen, and I am happy to oblige with my thoughts/process. We all benefit if we share information.

So this is my bit of advice, my one cent (No two cents yet-I need two years for that). Remember, I am still learning to plan. I consider this to be a big part of the planning process-reflection. It's good to know what we did right, and what we need to improve upon. Because no matter how much you plan. Something. Will. Go. Wrong. It's not IF, it's WHEN. The measure of you as a leader can be found in those moments, as you frantically set up a flash drive or race to the store for extra punch. Plan for the worst, hope for the best, and realize that nothing is ever perfect. Beneath each section I am including a *Note to remind myself for next year!

Kristen's Guide to Conference Planning
Ready yourself for Reflection, Advice, and Slight Sarcasm

1. Find a core group that works REALLY well together.
This has to be airtight. Glenna Jo and I were/are almost always on the same page. We think very similarly on most things, complimenting each other in many of our skills. She taught me to let go of certain things, and I gave her a focused mindset. While you don't need to always agree on everything, this would NOT work if we argued. We definitely disagreed, but no arguments. If you have a person on the board that is rude, disrespectful, or controlling, your job just got 10 times harder. If you have someone dismissive, inflexible, and/or dishonest, I reccomend their removal if at all possible. There's no room for mean on your board, and you don't want that to be the face of your organization.

*Note: Delegate more, stress a bit less
*Note: Extend team to more awesome people
*Note: Take team on rock climbing adventure
for team-building exercise. Here we go Glenna Jo!

2. Get your paperwork in order
No one likes this part, but it's definitely necessary. We operated as a 501c(6), which is a non-profit that promotes industry/business, so donations are not considered tax deductible. (Check out this article to learn more). These are essential things to know before planning anything:

a. What role will each member play? Have a clear, confident leader that will listen/be flexible and will be able to delegate with very clear expectations for what needs to be done.
b. Will you be a non-profit or a business? This can change EVERYTHING
c. How will purchases be handled? We were small enough to handle this directly
d. Who will do taxes? Me, with some help :)
e. Which insurance will you use? Highly recommended, and usually inexpensive for an event.
f. What paperwork do you need to operate? FEIN, meeting minutes, bank statements...oh my!

*Note: Research different insurance options

3. Find the right place that meets your needs
We chose Monroe County Community College for many reasons. They kept our registration cost affordable for attendees ($110 for the weekend), had on-site catering, and included locked space for our vendors. I am very leery of a space that is not locked. This becomes a major liability for everyone involved. Make sure to find out in advance if a space has locks if you are storing valuable items!

Also make sure your hotel/space is adequate for your needs. We went WAY over our allotted room block, and then had issues with the hotel we recommended. Not only will we not be using that hotel again, I plan to meet with the hotel management personally to ensure that all of our needs our met. That's a big improvement planned for next year!

The janitorial staff was FANTASTIC, and I received a brief training on how to use the AV equipment from the tech person. If you are using AV equipment, you should have someone onsite that knows how to use it in 5 different ways. We didn't have to worry about some of the heavy details, like setting up the internet or cleaning a bathroom. That saved us a lot of time and headache.

*Note: Include 1-2 other people in next year's AV training
*Note: Hotel changes

4. Plan things down to the minute, including spare time
When I first made the schedule, I only planned 5 minute breaks between seminars. This would have been a BIG problem. After all, people need to use the bathroom and such. And no breaks means the entire schedule is thrown off! Which of course frustrates everyone. I planned for "down" time, when people could go shop or just chat; we called them "Vendor Hours." Have the schedule readily available for people to reference all day. This means signs and stuff.

*Note: Add Vendors Hours in the morning and start just a smidgen later
*Note: Post more signs about the schedule in more places
*Note: More road signs and a more specific map to venues
on website and pre-conference material.

5. Ask for advice from people who know better
If you are in charge, you probably know by now that you don't know everything (if not, you are lying to yourself and probably need to remove yourself from the board). The mark of a good leader is that she knows when to defer to those who are more knowledgeable on a subject. Even the most seasoned planner finds something that turns into a question mark. This year we had many question marks, with tons of people to help with the answers. Honestly, we can always improve and grow, so advice should be a big part of your planning process. You don't have to USE all of it, but just jot it down for future reference.

Examples of Good Advice that we received:

-Elizabeth Stewart Clark sharing her experiences with workshops/weekend events
-Bill Christen, chiming in whenever he had something to share
-My Mom, on food and display
-My Dad, on building/setup/arrangement/safety
-Ken Giorlando, my reenacting Dad, with blog outreach (and Stephanie too! And Katie!)
-The sewing group I visit weekly, offering tips on making websites workable
-Janitorial staff, on table setup
-Culinary staff, on food timing
-Vendors, sharing their previous experiences at events
-Speakers mentioning their prior engagements
-Literally everyone at The Sawyer Homestead
-Friends/family who have already planned major events

*Note: Organize this advice better
*Note: Ask for more!!


6. Treat your vendors well
If you choose to have vendors on site (sometimes this is not possible). TREAT THEM WELL. I think sometimes we take for granted how important they are to the reenacting community. The vendors we had this year were incredible; their dedication to research/craft should be rewarded with all the money we can give them. These are the people we need to be supporting, not the tent selling rayon snoods or the overpriced, sad attempt at jewelry (this is my research area, and sometimes I shudder at the inflated cost of glued together items). Also, vendors are people. Here's some advice for working with them, which you can take with a grain of salt, as your vendor space/time may be different.

-Give them a good chance to make money. Make your table price affordable, but still enough to cover your costs for the space. Remember some people will travel very far.
-Don't lie to them about how many people you will have. Don't say 180 when you actually mean 80. While you may want a vendor to attend, don't lie to them. They may not come back another year when you can actually meet the promises you made the first time.
-Give them extra space if you can! Most vendors need more than one or two tables.
-Make all expectations clear. Times, space, payments, and etc.
-Food/water should be close by. Bonus points if you can provide a snack! In my own experience, I've forgotten to eat now and then :)
-Provide a person to watch their booth for a short time, especially if they are alone.
-Be flexible. They made the choice to be there, and it cost them time and money. Don't give them ridiculous hours, or set unrealistic expectations. They are people, they need to eat/sleep too.
-If possible, let them attend a session (figure out the monetary portion of this in advance).

I LOVED that the vendors could sneak away to go check out a session at our conference. We want these people to continue to grow in their research. They are needed in so many places, and it's sometimes difficult to justify learning when the business is the source of income. Make it easy for them!

*Note: Talk to the vendors who couldn't make it this year-there will be more!
*Note: Reconfigure space to be more efficient.

7. Treat your presenters well
What does it mean to treat a speaker well? This can be so many things! Remember, these people are the experts, the ones disseminating information. For quite a few, presentations or research is a big part of their livelihood. Depending on your financial situation, look at the following for ways to help make everyone happy!

-PAY THEM. Or at the very least, offer to pay them, even if they are offering their services as a volunteer (and let them attend the conference if possible). Even if it's $10. I have turned down payment many times because I understand the financial situation of these non-profit organizations, and I consider doing so a donation of my time/resources. The fact that it was offered shows that my time and effort is of value to the organization. They are telling me I have value to them.
-Or find other ways to compensate. This can mean paying for a hotel room, providing money for travel, or some other thing you work out. Food is a big motivator for me!
-Remember to make food available. We provided lunch/dinner on Saturday.
-Be flexible. If a person has an emergency, be prepared to fill that time slot.
-Provide adequate technical support. They will be busy teaching, and might not have time for this. If you have more than one presentation going at a time, you need more than one computer/projector!
-Give them the time/space/resources if possible. Don't put classes back to back; don't book the same speaker for hours without a break. Ask if they need anything.
-Check in on your people. While it is your job to network and meet people, don't ignore problems at your event. You are in charge, you need to handle it or designate a person to do it. You are the wall of water that stands between your event and the fire!
-Ask them afterwards what they liked, and what could be changed to improve anything.
-Write them a thank you (or some equivalent). Because it's just polite and my Grandma said so :)

*Note: Review speaker surveys

7. Create a program that fits your needs
Now for the meat of your conference. Unfortunately, I can't give you these ideas because we are probably going to be different (but do you want to bounce some ideas off of me? Comment below with your email...) We were so lucky to have a long list of potential speakers to choose from! Here's more detailed advice:

-Research your intended audience. We wanted to reach out to reenactors of different age groups/genders. Since finances seemed to be the biggest issues for youth, we made their registration less than half ($45) of the regular cost. The topics also reached out to men and women, from clothing to the trial of the Lincoln assassins!
-Choose dynamic speakers!
-Include the in-depth research. A Pinterest board is not research, no matter how many "experts" try to cram that down your throat. I've seen many boards with wrong items touted as "period accurate." It's an idea board, not a primary source.
-Make visual elements mandatory. This can be a powerpoint, handout, or other things beyond just the spoken word. Most people are VISUAL learners, and they need keep their interest and further enhance their learning.
-If possible, give options. People love being able to have a choice! Though in hindsight, most people wanted to attend both presentations we offered at the same time. There is a line between choice/no choice. We will work on this for next year.

*Note: Work on youth workshop for the weekend
*Note: More opportunities for learning material culture

 8. Create opportunities for interaction
I already mentioned that people are visual learners. This is another observation from this seasoned teacher; people like to move around. And they like to touch things. Ever notice the "Do Not Touch" signs at museums? Those are there because someone already touched something. As human beings we feel the need to have tactile interaction with our environment. So plan for that!

-Provide opportunities for hands on workshops. These were really popular for us!
-If possible, have an interactive display, with items that can be touched upon request.
-Mike Mescher provided some games, not only for his presentation, but at our soiree Friday night as well. Everyone loved it, and they had a chance to get up and move around.
-Did I mention the dancing? Jackie Schubert graced us with her presence as a caller, and the Peace Jubilee Band provided the music.
-Vendors can provide an excellent opportunity to examinr a reproduction of an original. Bob Sullivan has replicas you can handle and Lucy's hairwork pieces gave the tactile experience of hair jewelry. And I'll be darned if I get my hair caught in one of Mike Mescher's toys...

*Note: Add more workshops. Definitely.

 9. Know your tech
I know I already mentioned this in several places, but I think it deserves its own section. It is my belief that having a dedicated tech person the day of your event is absolutely necessary. The college provided a person for us, and I learned how to use the computer/projectors (with Bill Christen also figuring this out). Here's a few things that would require a tech-savvy person:

-Website building, make it easy to navigate and transparent! People should know EXACTLY how much it costs to attend your event, with possible accommodations/prices listed.
-The AV equipment-keep your presentations in 3 accessible places: flash drive, email, and hard drive.
-We had audio tours of our original items. This requires techie experience.
-Taking pictures or videos for advertising.
-Advertising through Facebook events, blog posts, or other online tools
-Your space should have WIFI. This is just me talking; I use my computer for notes.

How long does it take you to pull up a presentation? Can you set it up in presentation mode? What happens if the projector stops working? Who will step in if you can't be there at the exact moment? If you can't answer these questions, then you may find yourself out of luck if there's an issue!

*Note: Revamp website
*Note: Make registration easier

10. Signage like crazy. Communicate like crazy
This is one BIG area that I want to see improvement on for next year. I have a very keen sense of direction, but this is not true for everyone, and I needed to be more aware of this fact. Sometimes a new place can be confusing, so plan on people asking about the odd roundabout or 12 way stop downtown. Also, I plan to contact attendees to make sure that I communicated effectively.

-Communicate times/locations very clearly.
-Communicate parking very clearly. People don't want to leave with a ticket!
-DO NOT claim that you are endorsed by someone if you are not. Even if you're friends with them, or think they are your inspiration. This is known as lying.
-Do be honest about how much it costs, and what the requirements are for attendance. 
-Signs, signs, signs. We only put up 2 this year. I'm already planning the 5-10 direction signs, and the spots they will be. That one was a big learning experience!
-Post your schedule all over the building.
-Make contact with every person, either via email/Facebook, snail mail, or phone call. I talked to so many people in such a short time!
-Let people know if/when they can get their money back if they can't attend. I've see people complaining about this about a recent event. Here's my (now) two cents; do whatever you can to leave a person happy with their experience with you. That is both good business as well as the soul of politeness and civility. My Facebook feed was filled with negative comments about this event because people were genuinely annoyed about money.
-Ask for feedback.

*Note: More signs
*Note: Return policy clearly stated

11. Invite young people
Connecting with youth is one of the main goals for our conference. It's the big complaint/concern many groups have: why aren't young people joining up? This typically devolves into one of those "young people don't appreciate history" discussions, which bother me to no end. Because in my experience (with most exceptions in the reenacting community), young people are odd little creatures that don't even appreciate themselves. How can they love history with us if we're already bashing their age group? This year we had quite a few young people attend, and here are some of the things we did for them.

-Lowered registration for teens/young adults. Seriously, money talks. A kid will have a hard time paying $110, even if he/she is really excited to attend. Now $45? That's some babysitting and mowed lawns. It also makes it doable for families who want to bring their youngsters.
-Topics that may interest young people will attract them. Who knew? The dolls were a hit, and I had one youth survey talk about how much she loved it!
-Ask for input. I called out for ideas from the young people in my unit.
-Put them in charge of things. A few young ladies helped me hand out prizes, manned tables, and were all around gophers. Adorable gophers.
-Visual/tactile learning opportunities. Seriously everyone loves these.


*Note: Youth Workshop next year
*Note: Continue gophers

12. Compile/Review Surveys
So you did it! You pulled off the conference/event/thingy! Good job and I hope not too many things caught fire! If you've decided to do another one, then this is a great time to reflect. Do this relatively soon after so you don't forget (my Dad got very sick this year, so I had to delay a bit).

Hopefully, people filled out those surveys. People gave us so many good ideas. Ask about everything, from the food and hotel to the topics and the workshops. Don't expect to please everyone, that's impossible. But if 5 people mention a lack of signage...well then you better add more signs! You can also use the good reviews for promotional material. I actually got teary eyed from a few of them, they were so nice. HINT: If you liked something a lot, tell the organizer. It makes her feel really nice :)


13. Treat yourself well
And last, but not totally least, be good to yourself. I noted that in my first blog post after the conference. I was so anxious, nervous, and just not well for a few days. Luckily I have a dedicated family that took care of my basics so I didn't expire in the meantime. Here's a few things that I tried to relax/ensure I survived this conference.

-Eat food. I stopped eating for a few days, with disastrous results. Even if it's just a ton of comfort food, you need calories to get through all this work. (Glenna noted here that "at least some people do" I am making a mental note to make sure we both cram food down next year :)
-Sleep. Heck, take a melatonin if you need it.
-Massage. Yeah, my aunt took me to get a massage. It was awesome, and helped.
-Take a break from the event sometimes. Go home, pick another project, or just watch TV. Life will continue afterwards.
-Don't leave things to the last minute. Plan, plan, plan! Do as much as you can as early as you can. You'll worry less if you do.
-Tell people if you feel icky, and let them help you if needed.

In Conclusion...
If you made it to the end of this post, than you are definitely planning an event! That's cool; tell me about it in the comments, I may be able to make it out your way. I'm a huge fan of educational things, and would love to see them more often at events. After all, we improve together!

This post was essential to the entire process, as it made me reexamine everything. It's easy to get into a work mindset, and even easier to become especially protective of an event you plan. Don't let that come between you and success. One big part of planning is realizing that you made mistakes and can do better next time. Learning is a lifetime journey! I hope my ramblings have somehow helped. Feel free to pick and choose what you'd like to use, as every event is different. What works for one site might not work for another. Happy planning friends!

~Kristen

***BIG NOTE: Here's a special shout out to both Genteel Arts and Genessee Country Village, as I attended both of their conferences. There's a reason people keep going back to them, year after year. Also, I will be going back next year to each, so expect a few more blog posts. I'm including links to both sites; keep checking this summer to find out about classes/conference information.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Sheer Dress Inspiration

I need a new sheer dress this year. This is non-negotiable. The good thing is that I have a few different sheer fabrics to choose from. The bad part? I have no intention of pulling out my sewing supplies on top of my beadwork, jewelry, floating teacup, and other general messy supplies. I must also think of the health of my beloved fiance, who nearly succumbed to a cleverly hidden pin.

To keep myself on track, to motivate me to get on task, I'm looking at a few originals to guide my scissors. Perhaps the pretty will push me to make the first stitch? In any case, ENJOY!


I know this is quite a range. Some early, some late, some foreign. I´m really not stuck on one specific pattern either. All I know is that if I do not have a sheer this year, my face will melt off. If looking at pretty dresses helps to keep my face from melting off, I am totally in!

Kristen

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