Organising successful events is one of the core competencies of young and upcoming think tanks. First, you need to raise awareness and achieve high visibility for your organisation in order to reach potential members. foraus as well as its sister think tanks Polis180, Argo, Agora, Ponto and Torc have extensive expertise in organising events of different natures, which serve various purposes and are designed for different target audiences, scales, infrastructures, high- and low organisation loads, outputs, as well as different internal- and external stakeholders. The resources, best practices, and the practical knowledge all lie deep within the organisations and are shared with this knowledge resource.The main goal of this document is 1) to give a simple introduction on “How to organise successful events” with basic rules, things to think of, recommendations for speakers and moderation, and organisational issues and 2) to create a knowledge database with details and instructions on a variety of different event formats. All those instructions follow the same document structure (use the provided template). With this approach, successful and proven event formats can be archived and will be available for all members. Let’s share our collective knowledge and experience with the network!
- Before the Event
- During the Event
- After the Event
Before organising an event, there are some elementary questions that you should consider as an event manager:
One of the most important questions that you should ask yourself in the very beginning is: Why do you want to organise the event? What is the purpose? There are many different reasons and purposes to organise an event, and all the following steps will build and depend on that elementary question.
- Do you want to get publicity and raise awareness for your organisation?
- Do you want to give people to chance to get to know you on an informal level and attract new members?
- Do you want to inform the public on a topic that you are working on?
- Do you want to maintain or build up your relationship with the community, stakeholders or partners?
- Do you want to organise a crowd-sourcing workshop and brainstorm new ideas?
- Do you want to discuss internal issues with your community?
Draft a first concept of your event and try to answer these questions, it will help you to make decisions on how to proceed with your planning.
In a second step, identify your target audience for the event. This concerns people from outside as well as from within your think tank. Some will be guests, but in some cases events require active participants like moderators, or some format demands for other supporting roles. You can also consider inviting journalists and photographers for certain event types. In the starting phase of a think tank, you should open your events to a broad audience. If you plan to invite guests, always make sure to have a well balanced and diversified group of speakers on the podium (no “manels”).
Another important “who” question is: who takes the lead in the organisation of your event? The whole planning will be much easier, if one person has the responsibility as the main organiser and collects all the information. Also, define and delegate clear tasks to the people that are part of the organisational team for the event.
The question when? concerns on the one hand the date of the event, and on the other hand the moment you should start to prepare, hence the time you need for planning, preparations, invites, bookings, etc. and how you handle deadlines. Finally, the duration is also a crucial element of your event.
The timing of the event is a vital point that you should consider at a very early stage of your planning. Depending on the target audience of the event, you should consider different factors before you make your final decision. If you plan an outreach event for students, it makes sense to avoid semester breaks and exam periods. Certain events at universities can even take place over lunch. For a wider audience that includes professionals; however, the event should take place after work. Before setting a date, check a calendar beforehand to make sure your event doesn’t clash with another crucial happening such as holidays, cultural events or political highlights (or you connect your event thematically with that occasion, i.e. election-nights). The more active your community becomes, the bigger is the chance of date conflicts. Consider using an internal calendar (i.e. Google Calendar) for your think tank to prevent overlapping events within your community.
We suggest that you start planning early and keep deadlines to help you keep track! In volunteer based organisations, things tend to take longer than intended and you have to accept certain obstacles and delays - but you can add those obstacles proactively to your planning. Also, a coherent and comprehensive schedule with clear deadlines and responsibilities will help and guide your community to work more efficiently on questions like the following:
- When do you need to look for sponsors?
- When do you start invite guests/participants?
- When do you invite the audience/other stakeholders?
- When do you have to form a team?
- When do you book the venue? When do you have to prepare the venue?
- How and when do you publish the event? (Social media, newsletter, email, slack, …)
While you answered the question: what do you want to achieve with your event - in the why chapter. This section covers the crucial questions: which format allows you to reach that goal and what is your budget that can get you there?
Regarding the event format, there are two important rules you should follow: 1) be innovative and 2) don’t forget: the format should help you achieve the goal! Depending on the target audience, the level of publicity, the grade of participation and the expected output; the different event formats should apply. Some popular formats are formal/informal policy discussion, debates, workshops, seminars/webinars, forums, stakeholder “maintenance” (meetings), press conferences, crowd-sourcing events, brainstorming and ideation workshops, kick-offs, launches, meetings, slams, hack-athon, world cafe, after work beer & many more.
Depending on what you want and what your resources and possibilities are, you can either fall back on proven formats, or you are creative and try something new and exciting! You can really stand out from other organisations if you organise innovative and fun events. Speaking of being creative: a catchy name helps to advertise your event!
We created a database with event formats, which have been used by think tanks from our network in the past years. You can have a look and find a suitable format that you can adapt or modify, or you add your own format to the database! You can find a template in our knowledge sharing database.
The format also defines to a certain extent, how much money you have to budget for your event. Some formats can be realised with very limited or non-existent budgets (outreach event at a university venue, mouth-to-mouth and Facebook advertisement), others require extensive means (big venue with high-end technical possibilities, travel expenses for guests, catering, printed flyers, security, photographer, …). If you need more budget, you can also try to find sponsorship(s) for your event.
Location, location, location: the venue should support the event format that you want to organise. There are multiple factors that you should consider when choosing the right venue for your event:
- Size matters: How many participants do you expect?
- Who is the audience? High-level stakeholders or students?
- Interactive workshop or networking? Some events demand for different functionalities
- Which seating arrangement is appropriate?
- What technical equipment do you need?
- Do you plan a private or public event?
- Do you need a quiet working space or is busy place like a bar okay?
- Accessibility: is the location easy to reach by public transport? Is the venue barrier-free
- How much budget did you plan for the venue?
Universities, co-work spaces, local associations and businesses are good first contact points to find affordable venues. If you struggle finding an appropriate place, ask around in your personal network! Make a spreadsheet with good locations that you booked in the past and indicate the features mentioned above, maybe even leave a comment to let other members from your think tank know what impression you had from the venue.
Start early with the location hunt, as the affordable and accessible locations are normally booked out weeks (sometimes months) in advance.
- No panel discussions (Polis180 & foraus “rule”)
- Gender balance (ergo no “manels”)
- Choose an event name and type
- Answer the elementary questions
- Send invitation to Speaker(s)/ Moderator(s)
- Set Date & Time & Location
- Fill the Event Template
- Establish a Time Sheet
- 3-4 weeks prior: Create a Facebook-Event
- Design a virtual invitation card/video
- 2-3 weeks prior: Send E-mail invitation
- Track the number of Participants
- 1 week prior: Send out mail reminder/ Advertise
- Organise and Prepare Resources
- Prepare Apero
- Restate what staff member is responsible for what task
- All materials are required
- All technical devices are working
- Moderate an Introduction
- Take and share pictures/videos on Social Media
- Apero/Gifts for the participants/speakers
- Thank you notes/mails/post to speakers/experts/participants
- Post videos and pictures on the successful event
- Manage the payments and receipts