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How to Organise a Big Meetup or Event?

As one of the months containing International Lolita Day, June gets its fair share of big meetups. And by big I mean both in attendance and in scale or OTT-ness, if you will. Having said this, some communities struggle with mod burnout syndrome. While many may volunteer to organise something, it’s rarer to find people willing to throw a big meetup as readily. It’s true that those exert more energy than a casual museum visit – but it’s not actually that hard. Organising may also be your only chance of attending a dream meetup, if you have a specific idea in mind. So if you think you’re ready to take it up a notch, but don’t know how to go about that, read no further than this guide!

 

Step 1: Know What You Want To Do

Your choice of activities at this big meetup will affect everything else to follow. This may or may not be linked to a meet theme. For example, a tea party somewhere fancy could have a specific dress theme as well. On the other hand, if you want to organise a scavenger hunt, a dress theme may hinder the activity. Similarly, some activities work better in certain venues than others. Whether your plan is to eat, to craft, attend a performance or do something else entirely, make sure you have a plan. Every big meetup starts as just an idea!

 

Step 2: Find a Venue

Once you decided what to do, you need to figure out where to do it. Luckily, there are many places to choose from for your big meetup. If you need an indoor space, consider teahouses, hotels, restaurants, pubs, community centres, town halls… Anywhere that takes bookings or offers room hire will do. On the other hand, an outdoor event could be in a park, public garden, field, by the lake or sea – whatever suits your activity. If you’re able to and willing to take on extra work, why not offer your own home as a venue? The key things to consider here are: will it be appropriate for the planned activity, how many people can fit there at a maximum and how much will it cost?

As lolitas we often yearn for the pretty and the aesthetic. But don’t dismiss less aesthetic places just because of that. Consider your priorities and keep your options open.

 

Step 3: Food at Your Big Meetup

Unless your big meetup is quite short, attendees will very likely want to eat something. Sorting this out is much easier at a big meetup centred around food. If you’re going for afternoon tea or dinner, the food costs and venue costs are inseparable. In cases where your venue does not provide their own food, you will need to find alternatives. Sometimes the venue might suggest local caterers and sometimes you could provide the food yourself. You could also try doing a potluck meetup where everyone brings something to share. Always remember health and safety too! For example, if there’s a crafting activity, do it before or after food. This will minimise the risk of accidental contamination.  And in cases where your big meetup doesn’t involve any food – rejoice in having one less thing to consider.

big meetup food

Elegant, dainty cakes, decadent dinner or quick snacks? The choice is yours!

 

Step 4: Any Extras?

Whatever your big meetup includes, you have to cover the cost. As nothing is free, this means accounting for it in your budget. Common extras include goodie bags, raffles, a professional photographer or a prize for the best-dressed person. If you want to invite guests, think about their transport and accommodation costs. While there are ways to keep it down (e.g. asking for donations or bulk ordering), it still must be paid. Factor these in as early as possible to work out an accurate price. Alternatively, if something turned out more than expected and you doubt the attendees will pay any more, be brutally honest about what you really need. Scaling down allows the event to still go ahead.

 

big event goodies

Free goodies are great – although they aren’t really free. Photograph by Freefall Creations of the Dream Masquerade Carnival tea party, London, August 2017.

 

Step 5: Costing

This is the scary part – and it really needn’t be! Spreadsheets make calculating everything easier and Google Sheets is free to use. You have all the information you need. Simply divide the costs by the number of people to work out the figure you need to break even. For example, if your venue and food cost £225 flat and you think 15 people will attend, that’s £15 per person. Anything more you charge will cover the extras. So if the event costs £20 per person, that gives you £5 from every attendee to spend. But like I said, a spreadsheet can do all the work for you. Pro tip: dig out the info about similar past events. Knowing what your community was willing to pay will help decide what’s too expensive. Even if your big meetup appeals to everyone, if it’s unaffordable for most people, it won’t go ahead.

big event spreadsheet

This is the most basic spreadsheet you’ll need. It will do all the work for you once you have the formulas in.

 

Step 6: Decide and Announce the Specifics

This means primarily the date. It’s rare in big comms to find a date and time that will suit everyone. Yet without a date, the event can’t go ahead, so as the organiser you will have to pick one. A poll before you commit to anything will indicate how many to expect. This also helps with getting the right venue and costing it all accordingly. You’ll never please everyone and as the organiser it’s up to you to be decisive. Say when, where and what’s the activity. Once you have this, it’s just a matter of announcing the event details to your comm.

Paper invitation may be a bit much in the day of Facebook events. But if that’s what your big meetup is about, then do it!

 

Step 7: Advertise and Manage Your Big Meetup

Unfortunately, the hard work does not end there. Have you ever heard the expression that something is like herding cats? That’s what it can be like with lolitas. It’s your duty as the organiser to promote the event and keep everyone updated. A page that looks neglected will not inspire confidence in people to pay you the money. Alternatively, if you’re asking for payments or deposits far in advance of the big meetup, many simply forget, distracted by something else (a dream dress probably). Keep reminding people to pay and have a clear deadline for payments. Some venues may offer a refundable deposit, which could be useful if things don’t go as planned. But often with enough reminders and honesty about a required minimum number of attendees you can herd your frilly cats and make the event go ahead.

A poster is great for big events. For a big meetup cross-posting to nearby comms’ Facebook pages should be enough of an advertisement. IREGL’s Myths of Our Own poster with illustration by Sarah Nolan.

 

General Tips for Planning a Big Meetup

The above is a rough outline of how to go about organising a big meetup. But there’s still more to it that can help ensure that it’s a success. The tips below are broad in the sense that they can apply to smaller meetups as well. At the same time, while following these will ease some of the stress of organising, everyone works differently. If you’re a last minute or a more spontaneous planner, it doesn’t mean that you won’t succeed. It simply means that your way of organising will differ.

 

Start planning as early as possible

This gives you time to gather enough attendees to break even, as well as secures the best venues. Remember that many places also serve as wedding venues and those people book dates years in advance. Beat them by booking things early.

big event plan

The more time you give yourself to plan it, the more time you’ll have in case something doesn’t go according to that plan. And things can happen, so prepare for the unexpected as much as you can.

 

Have some cash for deposits

Although everything will ultimately be paid with everyone’s tickets, many venues require a deposit to secure a booking. Waiting until deposits from people cover your venue or caterer may risk losing you the date. Having some money available for the big meetup deposits up front will guarantee that this won’t happen.

big meetup money

Have some money upfront to pay your deposits. You will claim it back later through everyone’s tickets.

 

Ask for help

You don’t have to do everything alone. A friend or a comm admin may be happy to support you with advice or by co-organising. Maybe you’re good at talking to people, while your friend is good at spreadsheets? Combine your strengths to make the work easier and the process smoother. Same goes for other kinds of help. Know someone selling lolita accessories? Ask them to donate something to the raffle. Any comm members great at crafting? Could they create you something to commemorate the event? The very least anyone could do is help you set the space up – a greatly important and underappreciated thing!

Any help you get, whether it’s with big things like budgeting or small like setting up the table, will make a huge difference.

 

Ask for discounts

And speaking of asking for help, don’t be afraid to ask for ways of keeping the costs down. Venues want your business and many will ask upfront what budget and how many attendees you had in mind. Work with them on your big meetup and use their experience to your advantage. If you’re expecting many people, ask if it’s possible to lower the price a little. If you’ve decided to keep the price per person a certain sum, ask what catering options would suit that. It’s not rude to ask for a deal. Be honest and willing to compromise, and you may end up with more than you originally planned for.

saving

Every little helps and a pound saved per head on venue could be put towards something more exciting like a freebie.

 

Have fun

My opinion is that if I’m not excited about the event, the neither will other people. Although it will be stressful at times, enjoy the process of organising your big meetup. At the end of the day, you get to participate in it too. When others see your enthusiasm about the whole idea, they will become excited to attend themselves.

big meetup

Relax, let go and have fun. It’s your big meetup too, you should enjoy it as much as everyone else.

 

If you’re like me, you’ll get addicted to the high of organising bigger lolita events. Seeing your community enjoy themselves and have a good time is an amazing reward for all your hard work. Last pro tip: take some time to rest afterwards. You’ve earned it – and probably need it too.

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