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How to organise events

Wednesday, 10 February, 2010

I'm worried this post will come across as extra cranky. Certainly I feel a bit cranky. But that could also be attributed to sickness (I've had a sore throat for the past three days now) and fatigue (I keep dozing off and then I'm abruptly awakened by noise—construction, planes, doors closing, lawnmowers, children screaming, etc.) It's also hot and sticky today, but I don't mind that as much.

Furthermore, sickness and fatigue is making me feel tired at the prospect of having to do all these things I have to do. Some are self-imposed (so we will disregard them at present); some are out of duty. Some involve catching up with people. It's the catching up with people part I want to talk about today.

See, for years (probably ever since I started this blog) people have been telling me that I'm one of the busiest people they know. I've since worked out that that actually isn't the case; they are often just as busy as I am (or even busier), but their time is spent on different things, and the thought of doing what they do plus the things I do makes them feel like I'm the one who is so busy.

Anyway, because they think I'm so busy, often they will say, “Let's catch up. Let us know when you're free.” Which puts the onus on me because I'm the busy one.

Furthermore, I am (just quietly) freakishly good at organising events. (Not as good at conferences; that's a whole other art form. But social events, yes.) I guess when you're so busy, you have to be good at that sort of thing, otherwise you will never see the people you want to see and do the things you want to do.

This means the often the onus really falls on me. And then I get sick of it and contemplate becoming a hermit because I'm sick of organising things for other people.

I think, “Why can't they organise it themselves? If they want to see me, they should take the bull by the horns and arrange it; why is it my job?” And then it strikes me: they can't. Organising events is a skill that, I'm beginning to suspect, many people don't have.

So let me share with you how I do it. (NB: I'm sure there are lots of other ways. Ben's preferred method is, “I'm not doing anything tonight so I'm going to ring around and see if anyone else is not doing anything tonight, and then we'll do something”. But this is my way.)

  1. Decide what sort of event it's going to be. Dinner at your place? Going to see a particular movie? Meeting for coffee to catch up? Your birthday party? Obviously what it is will determine venue and time of day. If it's a particular movie you're hoping to see with particular friends, you need to make sure the movie is still showing. Note that most cinema releases only stay at the box office for a couple of weeks. (Unless they do as well as Avatar; then they run for months!)
  2. Who do you want to do this with? If it's one person, it's going to be easier to organise; if it's more than one, it will get more complicated. The more people that are involved, the more complicated it will be. You may have to be prepared to go ahead without certain people—even if you schedule thing six months in advance. (Yes, I speak from experience; people have busy in lives, and they get invited to multiple events. Some events will trump yours, e.g. weddings, engagement parties, family birthdays, etc.)
  3. Sub-point: How many couples are involved? You'd think that couples would count as a unit but no; things with couples involve an extra layer of complication because they have to take the time to communicate and discuss their calendars. In some marriages, one person controls the diary; in others, both have their own and spend time every week comparing notes to make sure they both know what's going on. The latter system never worked for us: I used to carry a paper diary and I knew exactly when everything was; Ben also tried to carry a paper diary, but in the end he complained that he never knew what was going on. So we switched to Google Calendar, which has served us very well ever since. (Plus I can sync it with iCal and then with my phone.) Sure, we still have to talk about things, but it's a lot faster. Also, because we tend to use similar communication technologies, the discussions don't have to wait until a pertinent moment when we are actually in the same room. The point is, some couples are on the calendar ball; some need a lot of prodding. And some need repeated prodding.
  4. Look at your own calendar and work out when is good for you. That should always be your starting point: when is good for you? Obviously bear in mind there will be certain restrictions depending on who you want to do this thing with; if you're a stay-at-home mum and you want to hang out with friends who work full-time, it won't do much good to schedule stuff during the day (unless they're on annual leave or something). And obviously bear in mind the restrictions that the type of event will impose on you. Let's say for the sake of an example that you're trying to get a couple of friends over for dinner. This means an evening. Your friends work in high-pressure corporate jobs; this means weeknights are usually out (unless they precede a public holiday). So that leaves you Friday and Saturday nights, the most precious commodities in the calendar year. (Some would include Sundays but you have church on Sunday evenings so that doesn't work for you.) You look at your calendar and you pick four or five dates spanning the course of a month, trying to vary the times a little to give your friends choice: Friday 19th February, Saturday 27th February, Friday 5th March, Saturday 20th March. You avoid the times when you know you'll be busy, and you try to avoid the weeks when you already have too much on. But you also note the days when you could possibly do it if need be.
  5. Then you email your friends your list and see what works for them. (I like email; I realise some people would just call.) If you and your friends are web-savvy, you can use When is Good for this step. (I must insert the following caveat: I've only used it once, but for that event, I wasn't the organiser, and the event didn't end up happening.) Also, when you email your friends (and this is extremely important), give them a time limit on how long they have to respond. One week should be enough.
  6. Within that week, if you don't hear from some of your friends, that's when you start calling. Or IM-ing. Calling is better: it is one of the more efficient means of communication, and it puts the person on the spot so that they have to go away and check their diaries. Sometimes they can't, however, in which case, if they don't get back to you, you may have to chase them again. (I admit that here I get a bit callous and I may just give up on the person at that point and proceed without them because they may be having personal issues, or they may not see you as being important enough to catch up with and therefore won't make you a priority, and really, you can't chase someone forever. It really depends on how important the person is to you; if you are extremely keen to have them there, you'll rearrange your life a bit more around theirs.)
  7. Be prepared to compromise. If none of your suggested dates work for your friends, go to the plan B dates and try them. It may be that you end up scheduling the event at a time that is less convenient for you; I guess it depends on how important the relationship and the event is to you. Sometimes I have found myself doing too much in one week for precisely this reason, and have just weathered the consequences (or scheduled rest time afterwards).
  8. When you've finally agreed on a date, make sure everyone knows and that it's completely clear when and where. I once missed a friend's dinner party because I mistakenly thought it was the other week, when in fact it wasn't! (Fortunately I wasn't the only one who thought that so I didn't look completely foolish.) If your friends are the type that need reminding, send reminders. In addition, in those reminders, remember to include the following pertinent information:
    • The time (even if you've told them before; people forget);
    • What to bring (if relevant);
    • Where the thing is (complete with Google Map links and directions, if need be);
    • Your contact info if they don't have it already (so they know how to reach you if they're running late/have an accident/get sick and can't make it after all, etc.)
    • If you know, how long you expect the thing to go for (e.g. this movie runs for 120 minutes).
    • Any other relevant information (e.g. “I'll get us tickets beforehand” or “I have to dash straight afterwards to get to church” or “I'm keen to meet for coffee beforehand if anyone else is free; let me know”.)
  9. Obviously the best preparation in the world doesn't guarantee that things will go smoothly. People get lost (yes, even if you've already supplied them with directions). People get sick. You may get sick. Traffic grinds to a halt. Rain comes bucketing down. Expect that you may have to change your plans at the last minute, or even reschedule. It all comes down to good communication.
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