How to organize a successful poetry event.
A friend of mine recently reached out to me with an elegant poetry event idea that she was looking to explore.
She wasn’t quite sure how to go about it but remembered that I had hosted several events with Pick Me Up Poetry and wanted to know if I could share some insight. We had a lengthy conversation about her objectives, and I tried my best to pass on as much information as possible.
Now that I think about it, I probably have this conversation with someone at least once a week, so here is my definitive guide to hosting a successful poetry event. I have broken this article down into ten over-arching bullet points I think every event organizer should consider.
10 step guide to a successful poetry session:
1 Prepare an extensive event checklist.
2 Set realistic targets.
3 Set a convenient location for your patrons.
4 Assemble a reliable team.
5 Reach out to the right strategic partners.
6 Acquire the necessary permits
7 Publish an Events page
8 Sell your story.
9 Communicate profusely
10 Respect time.
Prepare an extensive event checklist.
Your checklist should be the first thing you prepare once you have decided on the basics like your theme, location, ticket fee, date and time. I like to have a checklist for every stage of the event life cycle. So that’s three in total: A pre-event checklist, an event checklist and a post-event checklist. These checklists are not static. They are dynamic and are continually evolving as the event planning progresses.
My favourite application for note-taking is Google Keep because it seamlessly integrates all my devices and Google applications like Docs, Gmail, Google calendar, and Search. Google Keep is open right now as I work my way through this article.
Think long and hard about all the tasks necessary to make your event a success. What do you need to purchase? How will you sell tickets? Who will be on your team? Try to list out actionable bullet points and leave no stone unturned. You may arrange them alphabetically or by order of importance, whatever works for you.
Same as above. Account for every step your customers will take and consider every scenario. What time will the team arrive? Is there a program? Will you have a DJ? Where will they set up? Who will be the mc? How will you reach out to the performers? Again, list out actionable bullet points that will keep you on top of everything.
Your job does not end once the event is over. How will you clean up after the guests have left? Did you have a photographer or videographer on-site? How will your customers get their footage? Do you have a system to reconcile ticket sales? How will you communicate or thank your guests for coming? Amongst other concerns.
The whole point of having a checklist is to eliminate any surprises. Being proactive allows you to say,” Have we done this?” instead of,” We forgot to do that.” Things tend to go wrong no matter how well you prepare, so have a disaster plan on the ready too.
Set realistic targets
I once attempted to host a poetry festival for 10 000 people in Johannesburg. We were hot on the heels of several successful back-to-back Pick Me Up Poetry sessions, and I was convinced we could fill a rugby stadium in no time! Was it ambitious? Absolutely! There is nothing wrong with that, but it was not realistic at the time.
We did not have adequate social media awareness or credibility to pull it off. We did not have the venue’s hefty deposit to reserve the date or the cash reserves to apply for the necessary road-closure, liquor, and noise permits quoted by the municipality. The moral of the story is: Plan within your means. If you have never put together an event before, start small and allow yourself enough time to grow.
Ensure that the event date is 2 or 3 months away so that you have adequate time to market your show! Attend other events and keep an eye on how they operate. How much are they charging? Are the tickets worth it? What do the other visitors have to say?
Set a convenient location for your patrons.
The location you choose can make or break your event. Many organizers make the mistake of selecting a site because it is close to them or familiar. While these points should positively influence your decision, remember to prioritise your visitors more.
Explore multiple venues and consider customer parking, amenities, is there a bar? Will food be served at the time, and most importantly, consider whether the menu caters to your target demographic.
Assemble a reliable team.
This point is self-explanatory. I will not emphasise the importance of a strong team. Instead, I would caution you not to do everything on your own. You cannot be the MC, the sound engineer, the photographer, the host and the DJ all at once. No matter the size of your organisation, you will need help. On the flip side, do not overcommit the number of people helping you out.
Too many people will result in chaos and miscommunication. So find that sweet spot. Some people can handle multiple tasks, and some can stick to just one. For instance, if you have someone checking in your patrons at the door, you wouldn’t want them to be leaving the door to help a guest find their seat. However, the sound guy can double down as a DJ and handle the music playlist because the two tasks overlap.
Keep in mind that you are the glue that sticks everyone together. A good friend of mine once said to me about our Pick Me Up Poetry sessions,’ Wow, Webster, you are everywhere and nowhere at the same time!”That was such a profound analogy. Your duty as the event organiser is to ensure that everyone is executing their tasks and ensuring that the patrons are having a good time.
Reach out to the right strategic partners.
Reach out to a few businesses or individuals that align with your brand and help you make your event a success. The most important strategic partner is most probably the venue owner/manager. Your approach here is critical! I wouldn’t pay a venue booking fee because I know my worth. I know what I bring to the table.
I am always shocked when people tell me how much they are charged because a venue is ‘up-market” or it is good exposure for your brand. That is nonsense and a total rip-off. Do not let venue owners and managers screw you.
If you have a wad of cash burning a hole in your pocket, then be my guest and spend your money on ‘venue booking’, but you’re here to learn how to run successful events. Hence, I feel you will listen to what I have to say: I spent five years working in the hotel and catering industry. Cafes, bars, clubs, restaurants, bistros, you name it; I’ve been there!
The venues need you. Their industry is cut-throat and competitive. Every bit of traffic that walks in through their doors is vital to their existence. If you have 50 or 100 people confirmed to attend your event, you are the gatekeeper, not them. I’m not encouraging you to be complacent; I need you to know your worth.
I will explore how you can negotiate bar-splits and other arrangements with your venues in a future article, but you need a serious track record to pull it off, so let’s focus on getting our foot in the door for now.
When you approach a prospective venue for your next event, don’t forget to mention what you can do for them. Other examples of strategic partners include photographers, alcohol brands and even investors. Always know your value and put it on the table during negotiations. Don’t be greedy. Operate in good faith and focus on building lasting relationships.
Acquire the necessary permits
Time is of the essence when putting events together. Do not wait until the last minute to visit your local municipality or governing body. Find out what documentation you need for your event to be lawful so you do not run the risk of getting shut down, or even worse, prosecuted.
It’s common courtesy to notify neighbouring establishments and residences about your plans at least two weeks in advance. Use the opportunity to advertise your brand and invite them to join you too.
Publish an Events page
Facebook Events is one of the most powerful tools out there to get your poetry event in front of as many eyes as possible. Your event needs a Facebook Event page to get the most reach.
The platform allows you to invite a maximum of 500 friends. I would encourage you to ask those in town and message them to RSVP and share them with their friends. Word of mouth is still king.
If Facebook is out of the question, I encourage you to explore a few alternatives on the web or create your page with Wix or Word Press. You need to have a page with all the event information readily available for your prospective customer.
Sell your story.
Don’t sell tickets; sell your story. Why should people get excited about attending your event? What makes it different from the rest? Whatis in it for the performers? What do the fans or followers have to gain? The value proposition doesn’t have to be financial but rather sentimental. I trust that you will think long and hard about this part because this is where genuinely memorable events are made.
Communicate daily with your team. Create a group chat and outline everyone’s roles and responsibilities as per the checklists. Follow up on the designated tasks weekly and facilitate a conference meeting once a week.
It would help if you made it a point to communicate with your patrons. Daily status updates will keep everyone excited, and they will feel like they are a part of the journey.
I’ve saved the best for last. Start the show on time and finish on time. Your Patrons have things to do and often plan schedules around your event. Consider their transport arrangements, their babysitters charging by the hour or dinner with family. Enhance their experience to maximise their chances of return.
I am aware that there is more to organising events than I’ve managed to squeeze in this 2000-word article, and I’m willing to bet that before you stumbled on mine, you’ve read a couple of blogs here and there, all with varying degrees of merit and information. I hope that you managed to pick up one or two things here that you may not have considered.
I love bringing people together. I was drawn to the backstage because I believe that’s where the real magic happens. When people return home with smiles plastered across their faces, my heart is full because I could heal their world for a couple of hours. I wish you all the best with your event, till next time!
Are you a writer? Check out these 52 poetry prompts I compiled to keep you writing.
About The Author
Webster is the founder and managing director at Pick Me Up Poetry. His creative journey began at an early age as an aspiring musician, and by 2013, he was the arts & culture facilitator for the University of Johannesburg. He is currently pursuing a Business Management degree with The University of South Africa and aspires to make this brand a household name by 2025.