|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. Part one of the article is available here. -- Randall)
C. Location, location, location...
In my opinion, the place you choose to host your event is the cardinal planning point. Surprisingly, not all events are planned with location as the first established variable. Events are often based on a particular theme, or a series of activities, and the location is secondary. This can lead to inadequate facilities, awkward placement of games, or poor camping areas. The key to avoiding this is to choose your site and make sure it is secured for your event early, then plan your activities using the available facilities. Remember to start with a list of ideal amenities (needed vs. wanted) for your location, and consider as well the distance from your intended site to 'civilization'. Ideally, your setting should have sufficient amenities to make camping relatively easy and discourage participants from leaving to do something more fun 'in town'. However, if a beer run or a hotel is necessary, the distance shouldn't inconvenience your guests.
A note on finding awesome locations: in each area, there is almost certainly some landowner who is sympathetic, and perhaps even actively supportive of youth groups. Their land may already be developed to host large groups, or perhaps they are willing to allow your group to build facilities specifically for some need you have. The best part is that these individuals often charge lower prices and have fewer liability requirements than any other type of facility. The trick is finding these folks: they are often elusive and can be contacted best through someone else who knows of the site. Don't be afraid to network with other recreation groups in order to share information on available sites. In almost every case, I have found that a privately-owned facility is more interesting and less expensive than a national park or publicly-owned camping area. Many thanks to the McGowan Farm ( http://www.historyfest.com/) for hosting the G.A.M.E.!
D. Taking Aim
Consider your audience next. Yes, it's true, we all want "everyone" to attend. Be realistic. If you are the Autocrat for a large, well-published, well-established event, it is certainly reasonable to expect an audience from all over, but in actuality, most folks never have the chance to run something like Clan, Spring War, or Great Eastern. If you are running a small to medium event, it's vital that you advertise usefully to your local members first, your Kingdom next, and the closest outlying groups after that.
SOP for event advertisement begins with lots of flyers, email announcements, and word-of-mouth local park information through Althing and planning committees. That is a great place to start, but it can't be the only thing you do, or your turnout will likely be anemic at best. Continue your basic announcements, increasing frequency as the event approaches. Beware of over-saturation - make sure you offer new and specific information in each announcement to avoid folks just skimming over them. Currently, we also have the ability to communicate over the public forums that reach all of Amtgard, as well: make an entry on the Amt-wiki for your event, and create a thread on E-Sam to spread your flyers and announcements. The final touch is a simple, easy-to-access event website, with regularly updated information, and, most prominently, photos of your location and the approach to it on the road. Remember to make changes to this site each time you clarify or expand your information in your other announcements.
The G.A.M.E. went several steps beyond basic advertising in order to draw folks from three different Kingdoms, despite the fact that a Shire was the event organizer. First, they sent ambassadors to all groups within a 300 mile radius to personally invite the members to attend. Second, the Autocrat and his staff made efforts to attend other groups' events as a good faith effort to show solidarity, also gleaning another personal announcement opportunity. Third, the Shire's populace was encouraged to individually invite a friend from farther away who they would personally host. These special touches brought in at least a third of the folks in attendance. Imagine that, an additional 50% over your initial attendance projection! Tracking your additional attendees should be easy; just ask for an RSVP in person, over the phone, email, or website.
E. "autocrat n. - A person with unlimited power or authority"
Complete this phrase: "With great power comes great ____________". There is a school of thought that encourages Event Autocrats to parse out the duties for each major activity and let the chips fall where they may, leading to Feast-o-crats, War-o-crats, Jug-o-crats, and etc. As far as I am concerned, this is simply a cop-out, a sort of Limited Liability situation where the Autocrat can point at someone and say, "that disaster was not my fault! Ask that guy..." (...and the answer to the phrase completion: "responsibility". If you didn't know that, woe on you!)
Choosing to be an Event Autocrat is a decision that should not be taken lightly. In reality, that person voluntarily makes themselves liable for whatever happens at the event, both good and bad. It's just fine to assign duties to your staff members, but the important thing to consider is that the successful completion of every task is ultimately your responsibility. If a staffer makes a mess of an activity, that is your problem: it will need to be fixed or apologized for or cleaned up after. Every little finishing touch should be upon your direction or through your direct effort. The time commitment itself can be daunting, so be prepared before you commit to running an event.
A few ways you can assert your conscientious supervision without being intrusive or untrusting:
- be directly involved from the beginning. Attend every planning meeting and take notes.
- assign tasks according to a person's skill and interest
- don't hesitate to multitask your staff; give them something to break monotony
- make yourself available and present when folks are working on preparations
- check in as a friend, not as a boss
- get your hands dirty! Take on several tasks all by yourself.
- if someone is unable to complete their task alone, jump in and help out directly.
F. Minions...I mean, "Staff"
So, how do you choose staff members when each little thing is yours personally to accomplish? In the case of the G.A.M.E., the event Autocrat was a belted knight, and his belt line members were his immediate support staff. Due to their high level of interpersonal communication, there was never any issue if specific items were in peril of mishap; the issues were immediately discussed during their "bro time," and as a matter of course, solutions were implemented without delay. It was the closeness of the relationships that made this a successful model.
This idea could be expanded upon to include not only belt lines, but also other close knit groups in Amtgard. A household or battle company with the Lord or Lady as Autocrat could easily run an event, especially if there is a core group of close-knit individuals as a driving force. We often see a particular land running an event, but rarely is the level of communication as high as is necessary, nor is the driving force of the event also the leader of the land. If a land chooses to host an event, the choice of Autocrat shouldn't be simply based on who presents a bid, but also on the proven directorial capabilities they possess and a high level of personal magnetism. If there is no one able to fill those criterion, then perhaps that land should consider getting help from outside their park or not running the event at all. It is simply not fair to your populace to spend club resources on an event that could be unremarkable at best. It is our undeniable obligation to provide only the best events, because so many folks necessarily have to make choices between events to attend.
If you can't resist the impulse to assign entire activities to specific individuals, you should consider making those key staff people responsibility for whole 'shifts' of time. Rather than assign all war events to one person, for instance, give that same motivated individual a work shift that includes the time of day when he or she functions best. Make sure, as in a business, there's a bit of time overlap between shift changes, so there is communication regarding schedule and procedure. No one gets bored of their duties because everyone is multi-tasked during the hours they have been assigned; additionally, you have someone on-call for emergencies at any time.
Next: Activity Development and Implementation
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