Thursday, June 19, 2008

Organizing Events

In the mid to late 20th Century, I ran events and also staffed computer help desks, among many other things. A friend of mine just carried out a major event as part of a team, and she was crushed at some of the scathing remarks targeted at her. This is something I know about, so I wrote the following reminder for her, and thought I'd share it with you. (READ: sometimes I want to convince you that I used to be a bit saner.)

Do keep in mind that this has nothing to do with SSVE, you've all be so wonderful. But this is one of my few original truisms, and it works particularly well when you are heading a group of volunteers. So here goes:

Running Events & Responding to Complaints

Statisticians say something like 20% of the attendees will give you feedback, both good and bad, if you ask. This is a lie; people seldom take the trouble to give you good, meaningful feedback and we as organizers tend to remember only rude people. This is the same as people never ringing the computer help desk to report their computer is running fine, or email HR to thank them for being paid promptly.

Of the 20% who give feedback, about 20% have constructive ideas. These are the ones you want to pick up, and it's easier if you ask them directly what they mean, rather than you or The Committee interpreting or guessing. But by no means are you obligated to take up any of these good ideas; do it only if you/The Committee want/s to.

There are those who thrive on criticizing, and this is the social/therapeutic contribution of events that is seldom mentioned. You are providing them a place to voice their uneducated, inconsiderate, ill-conceived, inappropriate or disproportionate reactions, to make them feel important. This is their problems.

However, one of the tactics to avert unpleasantness is to ask for details of their feedback as if you believe their feedback matters, let them cite actionable/practical suggestions, and thank them profusely. Even if they are rehashing an issue that The Committee thoroughly discussed and ruled against, do not explain this. Sometimes it is possible to win people over in this manner, and they become your converts, (because you were wise enough to listen to them), but do not try this unless 1) you can be bothered, 2) there are no dire, real issues on hand, and 3) you sense they'll come back and reprimand you for not acting on their suggestions.

Or you can smile like an idiot and utter niceties and get on with the job.

Occasionally, crazy people have bright ideas, too. But very occasionally.

Think what people are going to remember in a few months. Unless your event is plagued by food poisoning or fire, they are going to remember the merits of the content of the main event.

But anything you touch tends to turn into gold anyway, (name), and the organization and the event will start to run itself after about two runs, unless The Committee decides to destroy it. Events is a team sport, so give way to other Committee Members where you can hold on to your sanity in spite of their bad decisions. By Event 3, you'll know how to quietly work in the background to prevent most disasters. If all else fails, quit The Committee, and become a paid member, and rant and rave. If you need a lesson in ranting in raving, my dear (name), ring me.

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