How to organise diverse events : a production checklist

Yesterday, the 4th edition of Ada’s List annual conference took place at the Financial Times building in London. I volunteered to produce it back in July and I wasn’t even in the country when it took part (holidaying / writing retreat for my new book). And everything looks like it went really well thanks to on-site producer Leanne who I handed everything over to a week before.

We had two hour long handover calls because that’s all that was needed for an experienced producer to wrap their head around what Merici, Anjali, Karoline and I had been building up to. Why? Because the information structure was in place, and this is something that you currently can’t buy. There is no all-signing, all-dancing digital service which will help you actually do the production work for an event.

Eventbrite will just about do to manage your sales and attendees, (although please someone for the love of god make bulk uploading of free tickets possible) but the rest is entirely up to you. And then you’re trying to put on an accessible event! An event made for a diverse audience! Ha! Double trouble. So here’s a list of what I did that I think always works, no matter what, along with what Ada’s List naturally encouraged.

Google Docs you will need to make:

  • A spreadsheet shared with speakers. A spreadsheet with 3 sheets to share with your speakers. The first sheet is a FAQ list of things they should know (location, who they can reach out to, what format their presentation should be, a link to a whatsapp group where they can ask questions on the day, etc) The second sheet, has columns with their name for them to fill in their biography, a URL to a photo of themselves (you will be chasing people about this until the last week) and the title of their talk. No email contact here (GDPR!). This allows them to calibrate their talk according to everyone else and also learn more about their fellow speakers. The third sheet has the schedule so they know where they are in the day and can plan their time accordingly and if you can include the map of the space that’s even better.
  • A link to a Google questionnaire on your event site for volunteers. We offered people a free ticket (worth £40) for two hours of help on site. In the questionnaire we asked them the level of activity they were comfortable with, from ‘anything goes’ to ‘rather be sitting’ or ‘help with social media’. Volunteers are very hard to manage as the drop-off rate is very high, but their involvement, when well managed, means you’ll get some awesome people to do their bit in making the day special.
  • A Google doc shared with volunteers. This will contain a sheet with the same sort of FAQs as the speakers including where to show up when it’s their time to help. Then you’ll have a second sheet where their name is associated with a location in your building and a timeframe.
  • A Master document for your team. This document will contain a number of sheets which are sensitive to you want to make sure this is locked down in terms of access. Here you’ll have a sheet with your running order (ie everything that happens in the building at every point), a sheet with speaker and sponsors contact details, a sheet with your vendor contact details and a budget sheet. This becomes the talking point of your whole team so that things are pretty centralised.
  • Two Google Drive folders: one for speaker photos, the other one for sponsor logos. This helps your team pick whatever they need when making banners, flyers, whatever.
  • A diagram of the layout of the space: use the host’s architectural drawings to make a simplified version of this. This helps speakers and volunteers situate themselves in space. Indicate bathrooms, emergency exists.

Other decisions you’ll be making:

  • Vegan lunch by default. By choosing vegan food, you’re reducing the chances of many intolerances and setting a tone of ‘listening’ to what’s happening out in the world. We used Vegantoyou who weren’t even London-based but willing to put in so much more extra effort to make this happen and it looked like it was great.
  • All day coffee & drinks. One of my bug bears is an event which makes me feel like my body isn’t mine. People get hungry or thirsty at all sorts of times and might join you half way through the day, so just have something for them to drink or eat all the time if you can.
  • A creche or babysitting option by default. We couldn’t put a creche on site (no thanks to corporate health and safety) so we worked with Bubble to offer attendees a discount in finding a local babysitter. We emailed people about this 2 weeks before the event to, again, help people plan their time and had it on the signup page for the event.

Ways to make sure you don’t have to do it all again next year:

  • Document the event. I convinced long-time collaborator Pypr to come up from Brighton to film the event. Without a good video, it’s so much harder to sell tickets the year after. A video helps sponsors see what kind of audience you’re able to attract, potential attendees want to see if they might be represented, and everyone feels better about coming to a friendly event where people of all sorts of backgrounds look like they are having a good time. It’s always worth doing, with consent. Make sure everyone knows filming will take place or prep your vox pops in advance.

With this, you should be able to make speakers feel more independent and network with their peers, help your volunteers plan their day, and stay on target with whatever deadlines you’ve set yourself. All this will probably go a long way to making sure you have a diverse set of participants. This should also allow your producer to go away on holiday, hand over to someone else easily, and still keep the ball rolling on your event production.

The rest is all down to curation of course which Merici and team was in charge of. The role of the producer is to make sure everything else supports good curation after all.

Good luck with making your next event more diverse!

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