7 things volunteering taught me about event management

Catherine Collins
Jun 13, 2019 · 4 min read
Our welcome slide to the Belgian events!

The Pint of Science festival takes place every year in pubs and bars all over the world. Started just six years ago by young scientists in the U.K., the point of the festival is to bring science and research to the public, in a fun and accessible way.

I’m a big fan of any scicomm initiative that lets me find out what scientists are up to from the comfort of a bar. So when my friend told me about POS in May 2017, I of course went to see. We had a great time, and I decided to volunteer for the next event, which got underway last month.

Mental note to self, organising a voluntary event is very different to organising one that you’re paid to do, where everyone is more or less required to participate. Here’s what I learned:

Nail your speakers down early

For months, I had press secretaries from two separate organisations assure me that their speaker would be there, but that they couldn’t confirm it yet. There was a neverending list of excuses: the budget hadn’t been approved, the schedule for the next months hadn’t been confirmed, they didn’t know when the boat was docking (yes, seriously) and in all cases, they would have an answer for me by the end of the next week. My mistake was to continue to hold out for these “next week answers” that just never materialised. Finally, I pulled the plug, with only 6 weeks to go before the festival.

Check your budget first

Initially, I invited a speaker from Denmark, but then found out that we had no budget for travel costs or hotels. The speaker told me she would try to get some budget from another source, but it didn’t work out. I felt terrible, having invited her to come to an event and then asking her to cover the costs. I had mistakenly assumed that travel expenses would be covered. Next time, I’ll check first.

Double, then triple check your venue

I legitimately thought that my venue was confirmed, done and dusted. I had booked it in October for the event in May, and it seemed like everything was good to go. Until I showed up, about 3 weeks before the event, to check some things with the owner, and they didn’t know what I was talking about. Turned out that the event had been posted on one of the pub’s calendars but not another. The venue had double-booked themselves – so there was another group of people supposed to be using our room that night. Luckily, the venue recognised that we had booked first and were in the system, so we managed to keep our slot. But the lesson was well and truly learned for next time – touch base with the venue about 2 months before the event to ENSURE everyone knows you’re coming.

Volunteers drop out

This was the saddest lesson I had to learn, but the reality is that no one’s getting a pay check for a voluntary gig. That means when the going gets tough, some check out. Pint of Science France boss Elodie Chabrol told us that 2 people is the minimum needed to run a POS event. But you never know if people will drop out, so I recommend ensuring you have at least 4 volunteers per team four months before the event. You would have to be really unlucky to lose three out of four, so you should be covered. Even if half your team leave, you can still run the show (fingers crossed!).

Test your speakers

I organised a “training session” with some of our speakers. Working as a science journalist, I’ve unfortunately come across many scientists who believe that they’ve explained something complex in an incredibly simple way, when they haven’t at all. I want to stress that this is not just scientists — almost all professions are guilty of this. Not everyone is a born communicator. So, I wanted to make sure our speakers’ skills were up to scratch suitable for the public. Not all of the speakers came, but we reviewed slides and had an engaging discussion about what the public would enjoy hearing about, and what didn’t need to be dealt with in detail. I highly recommend hosting a short training workshop for any event where academics or professionals are presenting to the public, unless you’ve worked with those people before and you know what they’re like on stage.

Put your most honest, non-scientific friends in the audience

They’ll give you stellar feedback that you can use for next year’s event. They won’t be afraid to lay it all bare for you. They’ll tell you what speakers spoke well and who was difficult to understand, what activities they liked and didn’t like, and they’ll give you a real idea of what the event is like for someone with no scientific background.

And last, but not least:

Thank your speakers and volunteers

Your volunteers and your speakers quite literally run the show for you. If they don’t turn up, you’ve got nothing. Make sure throughout the process that you appreciate the fact that everyone is taking time out of their daily lives (not just you!) Try to keep your temper in check and don’t forget to thank them for giving their time freely to a voluntary gig.

About me: I write about science, especially environmental science, and science communications. Follow me on Medium or read more of my articles on my website here: www.catherinecollins.org/articles.

The Startup

Catherine Collins

Written by

Writing, science, marine biology, ecology, entrepreneurship.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +561K people. Follow to join our community.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade