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Confessions of an Event Organizer (or how to be a good organizer, speaker, and attendee)

I've organized a lot of events in my lifetime. From small webinars to WordCamp US. (And an occasional child's birthday party back in the day.)

There are some truths we hold to be self-evident when organizing events — that is, they're self-evident to the organizers, but not necessarily to volunteers, speakers and attendees. For that reason, there are things that both the organizers — and all levels of attendees — can do to make sure that events are as low-stress as possible.

Organizers

Be as detailed as possible when giving instructions.

Keep your instructions for attendees as brief as possible, but also be as detailed as necessary to inform them adequately. It's a measure of striking the right balance. If you don't want to be fielding a lot of emails with questions you haven't answered clearly on your website, then answer them clearly on your website. (Yes, you will still get questions from people who can't be bothered to read, but that, sadly, is unavoidable.)

Bullets work well for creating simple-to-understand instructions. Headlines that clearly identify areas of need-to-know information followed by easy-to-follow bulleted items make information easy to digest and reduces questions.

If possible, add an online chat with available hours to answer any questions from those who land on your site.

Make it easy to register for free or to purchase tickets.

If people are already interested in registering, then HOORAY! your marketing efforts have paid off. Now make it easy for those people to register for your event.

  • Add the link to your primary navigation.
  • Add an easy-to-see button to your site.
  • Add the link to your footer navigation.
  • Post the link in your newsletters and on social media.

Review the accessibility of your physical space or online event.

To be a perfect host, any guest should be able to enjoy all aspects of your event. This means that guests with disabilities should have accessibility needs met.

For physical spaces:

  • Curb cuts in the sidewalks to access the building
  • Automated doors
  • Elevators
  • Signs in Braille
  • Wheelchair accessible restrooms
  • Aisles that are wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs/mobility devices
  • Close proximity for restrooms, meeting spaces, and food for those with limited mobility but still walking (i.e. those using canes and walkers)
  • Live captioning and/or sign language interpreters

For online events:

  • Captioning
  • An accessible (#A11y) website including alt-text on site images
  • Ease of navigation to find all the things

Speakers

My best advice to speakers is to be helpful instead of a hindrance. Don't make your event organizers rue the day they asked you to speak. Instead make them want to invite you back year after year.

Here's a list of Do's and Don't's for speakers:

  • Read EVERYTHING your organizers send to you. Most of the questions you want to ask the event organizers have already been answered in their emails and provided links.
  • Click through the links that the event organizers send to you in email. Many of your questions will be answered there.
  • Make sure that your headshot file name is your name. As an event organizer, looking through downloaded photos to include with your bio is an arduous task if all the file names are random letters and numbers. Make it easy for the organizers to find your photo.
  • Write your bio in the 3rd person perspective. Your bio will be much more professional and fit in better on the event website if it's written in 3rd person.
  • Limit the number of times you email and message the organizers. Most events are run by volunteers and their time is already crazy busy, so try to get your information from email and their site, then send just one email to them if you still need more help.
  • Submit everything on time. Your slides. Your recorded session. Your bio. Anything that's been asked of you. Being late with submissions is not only unprofessional, but causes a lot of stress for the event organizers.

Attendees

These events are put on for YOU. Without attendees there is no reason to hold an event. That said, there are definitely better ways to attend, and better behaviors to make the most out of any event you attend.

Here's your list:

  • Read EVERYTHING the event organizers send to you. Most of the questions you want to ask the event organizers have already been answered in their emails and provided links.
  • Click through the links in all the emails you receive from the event. Many of your questions will be answered there.
  • Abide by the event code of conduct.
  • Tweet about the event and the sessions you attend. Help the event gain followers.
  • Let the event organizers know if you have accessibility needs or dietary restrictions so that your experience is not hindered in any way, and so that they can plan well in advance for any needs you have.
  • Pay attention during sessions – and at the very least don't have side conversations in the audience.
  • Reach out to an organizer at the event in case of emergency or extreme need. They want your experience to be the best possible.
  • Complete any post-event surveys to help the organizers know what worked well and what areas you think could be improved.

No event is run perfectly. Humans are still the driving factor in all things, and humans make mistakes. But if you put enough time and energy into making as many things right from the start – regardless which role you have at an event – the event has a much higher likelihood of success, and you have a much better opportunity to enjoy it.

👇 What other suggestions do you have? Tell us in the comments below! 👇

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