Putting together an event, whether a small intimate session or something as complex as a festival, is easy…. if you just follow these two steps.
Step 1: Muster the patience and emotional intelligence of a mother with two sets of sextuplets born barely a year apart. You will have your faith tested, get pissed off, be tempted to break into tears and curl up in search of your mommy. You will also want to micro-manage each step of the process.
…Resist those urges and be strategic, discreet and resourceful.
Step 2: Organise a solid team that consists of reliable people who are dedicated to, and passionate about, your vision. A strong support system is a key ingredient to keeping a cool head and meeting success, especially during high pressure.
Last year, I had the pleasure and honour of co-organising my biggest event so far, the Ba re e ne re Literature Festival in Lesotho. It was a tribute to the late Liepollo Rantekoa who conceived it in 2011, whose untimely passing happened the following year.
Motivated by love and mutual respect for Liepollo and her work my partner on the project and I connected to carry on her vision. We live on separate continents so we relied heavily on Gmail, Whatsapp and sometimes even Facebook, aside from the occasional phone call to communicate. Amazing what can be achieved through social media when used intelligently.
As a result of that experience, here are a few tips on the art of events management.
- Work with people you trust
I recall an instance when I had to send an urgent email; the deadline for submission was looming and I could not log onto my account. I was stuck. For some reason, calls also kept failing and so I resolved to give my partner my email password via Whatsapp and he sent the message for me. It may sound risky but it is also wise to work closely with someone you can trust with your life if push came to shove.
- Make personal sacrifices
Multi-tasking is no joke! It was not always easy for me to make it to or set meetings with potential partners due to pressing responsibilities at my full-time job. Cautious time management was key, so I had to manipulate my daily 24 hours to deliver all that was expected of me. The reality is that when you are working on someone else’s time, you are not in a position to demand terms convenient for you so you have to make sacrifices, for me that meant hardly sleeping, juggling responsibilities and collaborating with others.
- Put your back into fundraising
Sourcing funding is a one of the biggest pains of pre-planning, so make it a priority and be persistent. Draft a proposal that outlines your intentions and the anticipated outcomes suitable to both your funder and yourself. Set a timeline. Draft a list of potential targets. Work on your pitch and make sure it is sharp, concise and genuine.
- Map out a concrete proof of concept
In Lesotho, companies tend to invest in you once they have seen something tangible. Very seldom do they take a chance on things that simply show promise. If we had relied simply on local funding then we would not have held a festival.
- Do your research
Research comes in handy; mine the internet for what or who is available to support your project financially and write proposals like your life depends on it. If you are new to the game seek an endorsement from an already established institution to vouch for your legitimacy. In some instances, in-kind sponsorship paves the way for a monetary one.
- Work with competent and respectful people
Ideally, one should work with people who have exceptional communication abilities and specialised experience so that tasks are matched with strengths. Building a competent team can be tricky and we only put together our dream team after a few mis-trials. Before that, we had to deal with people who were passionate yet either lacked practical experience, or the urgency to fulfil their designated tasks due to personality clashes or personal commitments.
Each member of our dream-team self managed to achieve goals because we were all mutually considerate and dedicated. To maintain efficiency, we met periodically to report on progress, solve problems and allocate new assignments. We motivated and inspired each other in our unity. When issues arose, we made it a point to address them with maturity so as to maintain the integrity of our labour and respect for one another.
- Prepare for the worst
Regardless of how well things are going, always consider that the worst may still happen. Five days prior to the festival, our political climate turned sour and rattled key partners who then resorted to either vacate the country or alter their schedules of operation to ensure the security of their employees and affiliates. To make matters worse, we were expecting international guests to arrive.
We weighed the variables and made the tough choice to continue in spite of the risk implications and advice from people who encouraged us to postpone the festival. We were forced to redesign our programme and drop or shift some activities but generally, all went well. It helps to have a plan B and C but most importantly, be flexible and proactive and make peace with the worst-case scenario (postponement or cancellation) if it ever comes to it.
- Set an aesthetic tone for the event which will guide the structuring of your programming.
Organise activities that will entertain your audience while they wait for the start of the programme and during intermissions. Ensure that communication takes place between you and your guests ahead of time informing them what will be expected from them and the amount of time they will be allocated. We learned the hard way that structural shortcomings lead to delayed start times, derailment from the topical issue during discussions as well as agitated guests.
A poor structure can overshadow positive highlights and tarnish a reputation. For me, it is the most important aspect of any organised gathering. There must be clearly distinguished roles which are allocated ahead of time. Preferably the team must have a rehearsal or trial run before the main event so that they familiarise themselves with tasks, the programme and the space.
If you are still standing by the end of the festival, reward yourself. It takes discipline to contain frustrations and refrain from completely losing your temper or faith. A positive attitude might be all you have sometimes, so keep it at all costs. If you really want something, give it your all. When all is done and more things went right than they did wrong, then toast yourself and your team on a job well done.
Perfection is, after all, a myth.
Photographs are courtesy Lineo Segoete.