Top 3 Things I Learned from Organizing an Event

by Groundswell V participant Gina Marrelli

‘Tis the season for fun events. I’ve organized festive get-togethers for friends before (Christmas brunch last year was a big hit) but never have I planned something by myself for strangers to attend. This year, I took the plunge and began conceptualizing my idea for a Craft + Comedy Night about a month ago. It took place this past Saturday, the 17th, and ever since then I’ve been asked this one question several times: “What did you learn from it?”

Not as easy to answer as it may seem! The event went well, but it was not without its faults for sure. I know that figuring out exactly what I learned from it will help me make my next event bigger and better.

And so, channeling my inner David Letterman, I bring to you the Top 3 Things I Learned from Organizing an Event.

Stand Up for Mental Health Comedian Kim Van Dyk entertains at my Craft + Comedy Night.

Stand Up for Mental Health Comedian Kim Van Dyk entertains at my Craft + Comedy Night.

#3: Panicking is great for causing stress, premature grey hairs, and not much else.

I somehow convinced a professional comedian from the organization Stand Up for Mental Health and a woman with Down’s syndrome who self-published an adult colouring book to talk about and demonstrate their art at my event. I was and still am incredibly grateful for their involvement!

But a couple of days before the big day, I didn’t know if either of them were still in for sure. Eek.  The comedian hadn’t responded to an email I’d sent a few days earlier to confirm details, and the colouring book designer’s mom was sick, which jeopardized the woman’s ability to come out.

On Thursday night, I felt a little sick, too -- sick with anxiety.

However, I knew I’d done all I could to follow up with both parties, and I knew that I would have other options should my artists be unavailable. So, I decided to keep my mind otherwise occupied. I went into my room, took out my guitar, and avoided checking my email or my phone for a couple of hours… and you know what? Somehow within that time, everything sorted itself out. The comedian returned my email, and the woman’s mom texted me saying she felt better.

Worrying rarely helps. When faced with uncertainty, I’m better off taking care of myself and thinking about the positive possibilities. I can do without the the grey hairs for now.

#2: The most important number is the number of laughs and smiles I helped to create.

All throughout the planning of my event, I thought about numbers. Would enough people attend so I could break-even financially and the contributing artists would feel their time was well spent?

What I should have spent more time thinking about was how satisfied the people who did attend would be with the event. I ended up with 15 attendees, and all of them had at least a little bit of fun (or they told me they did, anyways).  That is the best kind of advertising I can have for future events.  Those 15 people can tell their friends about the fun they had, and I can better market what I’m doing to the public--I know now what the participants most liked, so I can put more focus on that on my posters and online posts.

Now, imagine if I’d had a huge crowd and some people had had a rotten time for whatever reason. Maybe I’d have made a bit more money this time, but I wouldn’t be much better off in the long run.

#3: The best learning experience happened when I attended my own event -- anthropologist style.

The “No Place Like Home” sign I painted for my mom.

The “No Place Like Home” sign I painted for my mom.

Whenever I visualized my event night, I saw myself being busy, on the go constantly.  

Instead, I was blessed with a relaxed evening. People came in at different times, so I never had to rush to greet one person and get them settled, only to move onto the next.  

At one point I was out of things to do, so I decided to grab a piece of wood I’d put out for the craft activity I’d organized.

And I realized that this was actually really fun: coming up with an idea, picking my paints, mixing the colours, troubleshooting when I ran out of space, laughing with the person beside me about the cheesy quote I chose.

The same enjoyment happened when I sat down to watch the colouring book designer draw for everyone and listened to the comedian joke about his multiple mental illness diagnoses and talk about how comedy has helped him.

The main difference between attending my own event and attending someone else’s event is that now I don’t have to only hope that another fun night is up ahead.  

I know there is, and it will be even better.