Volunteer Led Events
Some personal thoughts from the recent Level Crossing Seminar held at Austin Court, Birmingham.
This was a joint event between the Railway Technical and Professional Network and the Birmingham Local Network. As I had been involved in these sorts of events previously I offered to help out, although the previous events had been run through the “Events” organisation. This meant that in the past I had made the first introductions to possible speakers then left the Events Team to manage the rest of the details (and just turned up on the day to chair :-)
I should like to first say that I am extremely grateful to Deborah and her team, who at the last minute realised I was drowning and helped out with the organisation and without her input this event could have failed. Due to my pressure of work, an unexpected and extended absence from the UK and a lack of understanding about when (not what) things should be done I dropped the ball and we nearly lost a couple of key speakers. There was an issue between two of the invited speakers (one wouldn't if the other did!), but that I think is a one off and does not warrant any further debate (apart from my thanks to the IET for their suggestions and support) in sorting it out.
My first thought is that if the event were to be a single speaker one evening then the workload on the “volunteer” would be relatively light, as a “first off” organising an afternoon seminar with 6 speakers is a workload (for a volunteer who probably has a day job) is not be underestimated! So, my first point is to make sure that the volunteer is fully aware of the time commitment that organising an event will involve.
My main error was not to keep in communication with the speakers. I actually had all six lined up very quickly (October/November 2012) however I failed to keep in contact, assuming that they would keep the date free. In fact the lack of communication meant that in a couple of cases they almost re-allocated the time and we nearly lost 2 key speakers. It should therefore be stressed that at least monthly communication should be kept with the speakers to ensure that they remain in touch and there can be no doubts about the viability of the event.
Which brings me to a second point; Deborah gave me a list of what
should be done, I would suggest that for future events (large or small) what would be useful is a timeline to show what
should be done when
(for example monthly “comfort” e-mails to the speakers).
Thirdly, when IET.tv gets involved there is even more administration, then there comes the possible interviews (which we never had time for at Birmingham) etc. This all adds to the workload. This should no be underestimated. Again with one presenter, it’s probably OK, with 6, it becomes a much more significant work load!
Fourthly, another suggestion would be to have a number of standard templates for e-mails that can be duly amended and sent out to the presenters for things such as IET.tv, copyright, inviting speakers, thanking speakers etc. These do not have to be full e-mails, but maybe a word document with some “standard” paragraphs that can be used.
Fifthly, on the day unless it is a very simple event I would suggest that staff support is required from the start or registration. At Birmingham, Angie was able to come across and help eventually, but Mohammed and I had to set out the “stall” and manage registrations (including those who didn’t have a badge and “on the day” registrations as well as introducing speakers to the IT (presentations on USB sticks, lapel mikes etc.) and general welcomes.
It happened, all the speakers turned up, it was very successful (56 registrants for a niche event outside of London!) and the feedback was very positive.
Would I do it again? Doubtful!! It is a serious amount of work, I would need some assurances that more support would be given by the IET if we ever organise a similar sized event again (event if volunteer led). This type of event is not a job for “one man and his dog” (and for those of you who know me, I have lots of dogs!)