Early this year I felt stuck- like I didn’t have a very good community and was looking to connect with other illustrators in Nashville (professional or otherwise.) I had no idea how to meet like-minded people and Nashville doesn’t have consistent creative meet-ups that I know of. What if I threw an event myself? After all, if you can’t find community, make it. I had friends in other states that launched successful “Drink ‘n Draw” events, but I am not a big drinker and wanted to keep the event out of a bar if I could. Bars aren’t bad and I have nothing against them, but it wasn’t the atmosphere I was going for. I also wanted to include local college students and not all of them would be old enough for a bar event. I love donuts (who doesn’t?) and decided to pursue Drawing & Donuts instead of a Drink ‘n Draw.
Positive Initial Response
In March of 2016 I pitched the idea of Drawing & Donuts to a few friends over coffee and to a few locals over Twitter, and interest seemed strong. Gauging interest was important to making the idea a reality- without a good response beforehand, I would have been marketing an event to an uninterested crowd and it would be doomed to fail before it began. If the idea hadn’t stuck with people, I would have found other ways to find and create community. After a positive reception to the idea, I decided to launch the event and Drawing & Donuts was born.
Takeaways on Response Testing:
• Always determine interest. Pitch your idea to your friends and peers to see what sticks before launching headlong into event planning.
Fast forward to April, and I began reaching out to out to potential speakers and gave them a list of my expectations and a deadline to respond. The time constraint was important to me because I wanted speakers who were excited enough about the event to respond with a “yes!” and disciplined enough to respond within my timeline. Those who didn’t respond with a yes or within the deadline automatically identified themselves as not interested enough or too busy for my event… which is totally fine! People are busy and have priorities of their own. My goal with this inaugural event was to get speakers who were excited and disciplined…. not everyone you reach out to will be. If a speaker is not excited, the audience will feel it. If a speaker is not disciplined, that will affect other aspects that YOU the organizer will have to deal with later on.
I also gave a timeline for my speakers to get me their slide decks. This was important to me because while I trusted them to have great content, it is my duty as the organizer to be thorough and not take chances at the expense of my audience. I asked for slide decks a week before the event and, in hindsight, that was not a good decision. Two of my speakers did not get me their slide decks on time, which made me more stressed out come event time.
In an ideal situation, I would have asked speakers who could not get materials ready by my deadline to not present. To me, missing a deadline that you have committed to isn’t very respectful, nor is it something an excited and disciplined speaker would do. However, because my deadline for the slide decks was only a week before the event, telling a speaker they could not present because they were late wasn’t a possibility because I had already advertised them to my audience and didn’t think it would be fair to promise one thing and not deliver on it.
In the future, if speakers miss my deadlines they don’t get to speak. Simple as that. It may sound harsh, but as an organizer I don’t needed added stress of managing people who don’t keep deadlines, and I believe my audience deserves a high-value, high-quality event experience. This is achieved through kept expectations and standards.
I also wanted my speakers to be diverse, and for my first event I think it worked out ok. I had a pretty wide group of drawing disciplines represented, a good range of ages, and 2 men and 2 women. When you have diverse speakers, you get a wider range of insight and value for your audience. I will continue to look for diverse speakers whether it is in age, race, discipline, or style.
Takeaways on Speakers
• Before you reach out to speakers, decide what standards and expectations you want them to adhere to. If someone doesn’t fit what you’re looking for, it’s easier to disqualify them.
• Get speakers who will provide value for your audience. If everyone looks the same, acts the same, believes the same, and draws the same, your event will stagnate after awhile. Bringing in diversity will create vibrancy.
• Get speakers AND slide decks finalized at least 1 month before the event.
I decided to have the event at my coworking space, WELD. I was familiar with the space and the staff already, tables and chairs would be provided, and as a member I got a discount on the event space.
The venue had enough space for attendees, there was adequate parking, and the location was great for people both north and south of town. But the venue was not perfect… The lighting was inadequate for my preferences, there were only 2 outlet locations which limited layout for the room and projector, and there were not enough tables for attendees. In addition, the chairs and tables were stored in opposite corners of WELD and there were no dollies or carts to use. Lifting and dragging everything over to the space was a huge pain.
Takeaways on Venue:
• Always check for good lighting, quality and availability of chairs and tables, parking availability, and price.
• Make sure you have access to a hand truck to help move things around more efficiently.
I could have bought the donuts myself but it would have added to the ticket price. In order to keep costs low for the attendees, I wanted to get sponsorships.
Getting sponsors went a lot better than I thought it would! I reached out to local businesses (Fox’s Donut Den and Five Daughters Bakery) and shared briefly about my goals and my plans to insert their product into the event, and how it would benefit them. The businesses were very receptive and generous, and didn’t ask for anything in return other than what I promised (logos up on the projector, table tents, and a shout-out.) My follow up with sponsors includes a thank-you note and pictures.
Takeaways on Sponsors:
• Be willing to reach out by whatever means necessary be it Facebook, email, or the phone.
• Be prepared with an explanation of your goals and how having them as a sponsor is a win-win for everyone.
• Say thank you!
I sold tickets online through woo commerce a self-hosted site that I built. Everything online went soothly! In the future I plan to offer earlybird tickets, then increase the ticket price after a certain date. I was still selling tickets an hour before the event, which was created some unneeded stress while I was trying to get set up. Next time I will be ending ticket sales before the event for my own sanity. Doing this will reward the loyalty of those who sign up early, and penalize the noncommittal, last-minute people. I anticipated 31 attendees the morning of the event, and by the time the event got underway there were 50 people in the room!
As much as I want everyone to come, I need to set some boundaries so I can accurately plan and provide an excellent, consistent experience for attendees. Because I chose to leave ticket sales open until right before the event, I had an influx of unplanned-for people. Donuts ran out quickly, I did not buy enough cups or beverages, I ran out of a roll of paper, I didn’t have a lot of drawing tools to provide, and had to add more seating at the last minute.
Takeaways on Tickets:
• Have a specific ticket sales window
• Offer earlybird ticket prices to reward those who commit.
This directly correlates to ticket sales. If I had set boundaries on ticket sales and the window of time sold, I would have been able to better plan for my attendees and provide an excellent experience for everyone who attended. Everyone who attends one of my events should have the same access to food, drink, and supplies. I regret that some were not able to get a donut, a drink, or access to a wider variety of drawing supplies. Next time will be better!
Takeaways on Supplies:
• Have boundaries for accurate planning
• Get twice as much as you think you need just to be on the safe side
• Encourage people to bring their own supplies more, and prepare better with more supplies. What I offered as a backup option ended up being used by a lot of people who brought nothing of their own.
This was a big thing to put on by myself. It took a few hours to get set up, and I was only able to clean up quickly because 3 of my awesome friends stayed late to put away chairs and tables with me. Next time I will be asking for more help in setting up, tearing down, and making sure attendees are taken care of.
Takeaways on Help
• Ask for help and delegate.
Ultimately, my goal to gather people to draw and hang out was a success. I loved what the speakers had to say and really enjoyed meeting people. This event did not make any money. Most of my costs were covered, but there was some shortfall when it came to web hosting, some supplies, and my own time spent on the event.
There were a few bumps along the way and I learned a lot! My next event will be better and I can’t wait to get started on it.
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