|Re-Inventing Events: Reflections on The G.A.M.E.
(This article was originally submitted in July 2010. Due to the scope of the article, it has been broken into sections that will be posted over the course of several days. -- Randall)
A significant portion of long-time Amtgarders have visited lands in a completely different part of the country at one time or another. In May 2010, I was offered an opportunity to participate in an Amtgard event far from my hometown, so instead of simply having a good time, I chose to make it a learning experience. Recently, I noticed our local events have been fairly predictable and now fit in a set pattern, which is certainly comforting but seems to encourage mediocrity. As an invited guest staff member of the Great Amtgard May Event (G.A.M.E.), I noted several ways that the planning and execution of this event were different than I am used to, while still being aimed at the event ideal: a full schedule of varied activities with minimal inconvenience for both players and event staff. In the following article, I will be addressing both the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for events run in the area I live, and the different practices which were put into effect at the G.A.M.E. Ideally, this synthesis will give the audience a few ways to more effectively and enjoyably run their local events.
Event planning is something that many established Amtgarders have dabbled in, some more seriously than others. Often the effort it takes to fully plan and execute any large group gathering is exhausting, and the Autocrat and staff have their hands so full they are unable to enjoy the event itself, not to mention the occurrence of 'burn-out' amongst staff members afterward. Add that to the effort it takes if your event is more than a short distance from your home park, and the road trip can make a mediocre event downright worthless to even your local regulars. Let's look at some of the basics, with a focus on different ways to approach our planning obstacles:
A. When To Start
What better time than NOW? You, just this moment, had an idea for an event. Perhaps it's simply a locally-hosted campout, or maybe you're making a bid to run something major and established. Either way, the time to start actively working on an event is IMMEDIATELY. The minimal amount of time needed to make any large-scale event possible is six months prior to the event. Ideally, you get to choose your own date, as was the case with the G.A.M.E. An idea was sparked at Clan 2009, and the planning was already in process on the 1500-mile-long car ride home. Within a week of the idea, the location was reserved and the rest of the basics could be addressed. In this case, the amount of time allotted for planning was determined by site availability and weather patterns, but your event could have other schedule limitations. Just be sure that you allot yourself plenty of time beforehand. Remember, the largest events are planned from the moment the previous year's event is over (or before).
B. Setting a timeline
Having a good idea of what will be done in preparation and when it will be completed is an absolute necessity for any event planner. I have noticed that some folks choose to just have a list of what needs to get done, but no real specified plan of when those things will actually happen. Items will get neglected, or completed in a hurried fashion, leading to second-rate results at best. A solid timeline with an achievable step-by-step progression towards your final results will ensure a more predictable, enjoyable event. During this phase of the G.A.M.E., the Autocrat alone took charge of scheduling, confident that his populace would support his decisions. If this is not the case for you, remember to include your Monarchy, your Populace, and even your Kingdom in your discussions as you set your timeline.
Let's take a look at a basic timeline, which you can build on for your event:
Initial Stage (6-12 months prior to event):
- make site reservations (including payment arrangements) [see Section C]
- set a theme or refine your basic idea
- make a simple initial announcement at your park and on your local email list with dates and theme.
Main Planning Stage(3-9 months prior to event):
- detailed announcements ongoing [see Section D]
- set an activity schedule [see section G]
- recruit staffers [see section F]
- assign specific responsibilities [see section F] and start regular check-ins
- gathering props and prizes (always keep an eye out for sales!)
- Public input: opinion polls, Althing discussion, general planning meetings begin
- webpage designed with basic information
Imminent Phase (3 months to 2 weeks before):
- complete construction/acquisition of props and prizes
- check-in weekly with staff regarding completion of assigned items and personal availability
- planning and announcing menus
- flyers printed and distributed
- in-person appearances to invite out-of-towners [see Section D]
- final webpage and email announcements; all details available
Last minute Items:
- food purchased; "portable provisions prepared prior"
- final schedule adjustments
- At-Gate flyer and event waivers printed and ready
- check-in weekly with staff; personally complete all incomplete items [see section E]
- On-site setup and communications established
Each of these items can be added to, specialized or specified, or placed at a different interval in order to structure your plan precisely for your event. I highly recommend you also get a written calendar set up for your event as a physical reminder of the exact date by which items should be completed. Check this calendar daily so if there's something that requires work, you are aware and in process. Especially important are recurring items like email announcements and staff check-ins; these regular items are easiest to skip, because you think to yourself, "I just did that. It can wait."
Next: Location, location, location...
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