5 top tips to organise a small event

Posted by j.laird on 26 July 2021 - 9:30am

Checklist in notepad
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

By Selina Aragon, SSI Communications Lead, and Shoaib Sufi, SSI Community Lead.

Back in December, the SSI released the first version of our Event Organisation Guide (SSI-EOG or EOG for short). We collated different experiences in running events and published them together in this guide. While the EOG mainly draws examples from our annual Collaborations Workshop (an event of around 100 people), it has also been designed to help with other types and sizes of events. In this post, we talk about our five top tips, based on the EOG, to organise and run a successful small event or workshop. By small event, we mean up to around 40 attendees. 

1. Planning: When to plan and Idea Exploration & Feasibility Stages

Organising small events should not involve too much ceremony. However some planning is needed to allow you to make best use of your time and focus your aims on the audience you are trying to attract and the type of sessions and speakers you want to include. Depending on your event you could start planning anywhere from six months to one month in advance. 

The Idea Exploration Stage is the first SSI-EOG stage and is an ideal starting point for your event. The next stage is the Feasibility Stage where you dive into greater detail. For a smaller event those two references will be enough but it might be worth a quick skim of the main Event Project Stage for further tips that might be relevant for your event.

A handy checklist would thus be:

  • Decide on your overall goals - what are you trying to achieve by running this event?
    • Be clear to define terms which might be ambiguous (e.g. ‘Accessibility’ or ‘Toolkits’)
  • Your target audience - who are you running this event for?
  • Draft an agenda - this should include the types of sessions you will run - i.e. - to inform people, to encourage discussion or to build something together
  • Plan for your different sessions - potential speakers, topics for discussion, ideas or overall theme of a hackday.
  • Publicity - this will be covered in greater detail below as it’s crucial to making a successful event.
  • Workout the timeline - start backwards from the date (or approx) date of the event and think what needs to happen by various dates. 
  • What are the outputs (resources) and outcomes (changes you hope to see) - more details on those below.  
  • Choose a date - make sure to check for conflicts, and for small events you might be able to ask possible attendees about their availability.
  • A venue - for an in-person event a venue specification is useful to prepare.
    • This should include any technical requirements such as power, wifi and projection.

2. Resources: Infrastructure & Finance

At the beginning of a project it is worth thinking about financial parameters. Is this a free event, do you want to break even or are you building up some funds to help other activities? Draw up a budget and keep it up to date to understand the finances of your event.

The infrastructure you need will be governed by the financial parameters. If this is a face to face event - will you need to hire rooms or (ideally) book them for free. Food and other refreshments will need ordering if these are in the budget. Is there a budget to support those who would like to attend but cannot afford to? 

For online events one may consider which platforms will be of the most use for the event, such as using a document-based agenda (e.g. Google Docs or HackMD), a video conferencing platform (such as Zoom, Teams of Google Meet) and more persistent messaging systems (such as Slack, Teams or a Skype group).

3. Roles

Understanding the duties and tasks that will be performed before, during and after an event will help the event run smoothly. For a small event, the duties can vary depending on the type of event and duration. It’s a good idea to recruit a few helpers to be on call during the event. You can always run a call beforehand, or ask whether some of your colleagues would be happy to help. Think about what tasks you’ll need to carry out during the event and assign them to your team.

For inspiration on types of roles and tasks, have a look at our event roles template and duties roster template

4. Publicity

Whether you’re advertising locally or casting a wider net, publicising your event will help you attract attendees from the audiences you defined at the start of the event organisation journey. To avoid your event falling through the cracks of your potential attendees’ diaries, it’s key to develop a publicity plan

As part of this, the event lead should define dissemination channels (e.g. website, social media, email marketing), a publicity timeline (when), and a content plan (what). Incorporating publicity to your overall timeline will make it easier to keep track of the information that has been and will be advertised. When writing about your event, make sure you use the Five Ws (who’s running the event, what the event is, when and where it will take place, and why it’s important to attend or relevant to a specific audience).

During the event, you might want to think about taking photos for future use. Make sure attendees are made aware and asked for consent before taking any pictures. For a small event, you can take photos yourself or ask a volunteer, for online events taking a screenshot of attendees is a common practice (again do ask attendees if this is ok). After the event, there might be various outputs that relate to publicity. 

5. Outputs & outcomes

In the SSI-EOG, we talk about outputs and outcomes of an event. These may be recordings of specific sessions, any write-ups of the event, or follow ups, such as event feedback surveys. In any case, you will need to plan for these while you organise your event, as they will not only show you, but also others –including stakeholders– how successful your event was, and assess whether any lessons learned can be taken on board for future events. Depending on the type of outputs, you might be able to use some of them in future publicity; e.g. blog posts about the event, photographs, event reports. 

Outputs tend to focus on the resources produced by running the event, Outcomes are more focused on the change one wants to see by running the event (e.g. increase in knowledge, increase in practice, advocacy been made easier); Ten simple rules for measuring the impact of workshops is a good resource to explore to help think about measuring outcomes.

See our Event Organisation Guide for more useful information on planning and organising successful events of all sizes, large and small.

Want to discuss this post with us? Send us an email or contact us on Twitter @SoftwareSaved.  

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