Festival and Event planing notes: Lessons from a beginner

Planning Events: Learn from My mistakes

Photo Courtesy of Conjurefest

We are currently right in the middle of festival season.  There are indoor and outdoor events of all sorts all across the country.  Some are religious and spiritual and others are regional specialty fairs and festivals.  Every year there are new festivals that pop up and some succeed and return and others fail.  There are many things that event planners need to consider when they are setting up and creating their event.  This is a process I just started to learn and understand.

Two years ago  I officially joined the local Pagan Community organization as a member on the board of directors and planning committee.  Last year I did my first major contribution to the community and held a psychic fair as a fundraiser for our Unity Day organization so we can do more events and have money to try things in the future.  After I started on that project I quickly realized that I knew basically nothing about what I was doing and that I had a lot more work than anticipated.

Originally I thought that all I would need to do is get the place, get the vendors, and get the programs printed.  Simple enough.  I figured that with my experience as a vendor at these types of events I would be able to understand all that goes into these projects.   I had no idea how much more was involved.    The stress and anxiety were intense, but to be honest it worked out quite well.

I had to not only get the vendors but keep in constant contact with them.  I had to deal with the venue and planning with them.  I had to deal with food issues, location issues, and planning the layout as well as making sure that no one type of product was over represented or to close to each other.  I had to make sure that people knew about the event and could find it.  There was so much I didn’t do that could have made the events turn out so much better.

This year I tried my hand again at doing the vendor coordinator thing with our Unity Day celebration.  The venue had already been chosen so that was one struggle off my hand.  I did still have to deal with placement, contact, and planning.  There were still many things that I had to do as a vendor coordinator.  Many of the lessons I learned I applied here and was able to have a set up that allowed vendor diversity and travel paths while giving everyone what they wanted and or needed.  So with that introduction out of the way lets get on to some lessons that I learned that many other people may find useful.

Lesson 1: Clear Communication Between All Parties

The first lessons I can give you in planning events is the importance of clear communication between all parties. This includes venue, vendors, and anyone else involved. Its important to make sure that everyone is on the same page.  If one type of communication is not working try other methods like phone calls over e-mails and face to face encounters if all else fails.  The ability to be clear about what is needed is essential.

When I hosted a summer psychic fair last year I requested the proper amount of tables but in set up no where did I mention that we needed chairs. On the day of the event I get into the venue and I find that there are no chairs with each table. I assumed that with each table they would set up chairs.  They did not.  The man I had been talking to about planning was not there and I had to find other people to talk to on that day.  Once I mentioned it the situation was remedied and we had chairs available in both the workshop room and the vendor room.

That same day I realized I had not been in communication with the kitchen at all.  I had assumed that our lunch order had been placed in correctly.  When our sandwich orders came in the few special requests we had made were not there.  I showed the server our order as it was saved on my phone and she showed me what they had put down.  They dealt with it promptly but this was something that could have been involved had I personally checked in with the kitchen before the event started.  Even a quick check in that morning could have verified that everything was set that day for the proper food.

This leads into the second lesson I learned.

Lesson 2: The importance of being flexible and compromising.

By having clear communication you can avoid some misunderstandings.  If you ask for clarity you can avoid a lot of trouble.  If you admit to a misunderstanding or miscommunication be willing to work with the venue or other parties..  The first time I experienced this was when I was dealing with the catering options.

I misunderstood what the options were.  I thought each individual was going to be allowed to order their own sandwich and side based on the options available.  That was not the case.  I was able to make a comprise based on my misunderstanding and the needs of the vendors.  At the end all of my vendors were able to get their food and everyone had something to eat. The vendors understood the mistakes and situation and worked with me and the venue. The staff was apologetic and worked with me very easily.

Some of that could have been avoided if I had communicated with the kitchen that morning when I had the issue with the chairs and if I had contacted them directly prior to the event to make sure they knew exactly what was going on for the food order. This is why lessons 1 & 2 are connected but also separate. They are both lessons on communication, and flexibility.

Lesson 3: The Venue

One of the most important things to consider when holding an event of any sort if where are you going to hold the event. Before you can plan for vendors and or entertainment you need to know how much space you have to work with. You need to know exactly where you are going to hold your event.  It’s important to know what the space looks like inside and outside as well as the actual dimensions of the space.

It is really important to actually visit the location of the event in person.  That way you can get a feel for the room and start an actual visual thought pattern.  Having a blank floor plan is wonderful as it lets you see where the doors are, the outlets and any other important features.  However if you actually visit the space things can seem larger or smaller than they actually are.  That was something I experienced this past weekend when I was planning the layout for the local Pagan Community Day.  While I had been to the venue many times before for that event, it was a totally different experience planning a layout rather than just going in and setting up my space.

Lesson 4: Proper Floor Planning and Vendor Layout

When holding festivals and events there will be booths and tables for vendors to share their wares or set up displays etc depending on the type of event you are holding. In any case it is important to have a good lay out that is easy to navigate, has clear aisles, and that does your best to place vendors or presenters that have the same products too close to each other. You want to have plenty of room for everyone to get around and be comfortable. Having too many vendors of one type next to each other can cause one vendor to get too much attention while another gets none. Spreading out the flow allows one to be able to get everyone traffic.

My first floor plan-badly designed

The above photo is the very first floor plan that I did for a fair I ran. The problem with this layout is that you can not clearly see where the aisles are. You can’t see which way the tables are supposed to face and how the traffic is supposed to flow.  The only clear walking space is the walls of the room.  Other than that you can’t tell where or how people were supposed to be facing.

While in my head I was able to see a walking path and how the tables would be facing, the execution of this map was a fail.  One way I could have fixed that is with drawing arrows pointing in the direction of the foot traffic.  The easiest way to fix that though would have been to keep all the tables going  length wise rather than some length wise and some width wise.

One good thing I did do in the above layout was I did not have too many similar vendors next to each other.  They may have been near each other but they were not right next to each other.  Part of the way I was able to do this was through color coding the different types of businesses and services we had at this event.  For example we had healers, readers, natural products and remedies, herbs, metaphysical supplies, and some who were combinations of readings and or healing.  By giving each of those a different color I was able to set things up

My lay out for the event I did this past weekend however took that lesson to heart and things were able to work out.  While I did not get exactly what I put on the floor plan, the overall set up worked and there was a clear line of traffic.  It worked out even better when we had to make adaptions for the weather and move the outside vendors inside the venue.

You can see by looking at this layout that there is a clear line of walking and where the vendors will face and where the customers will walk. If there had been a few more indoor vendors that space and those isles would have been even clearer. Yet it still shows that a lesson was learned and able to be applied.

Lesson 5: Adaptability

The very last lesson I have is that as an event planner you need to be a bit flexible. You may have vendors not show up. Vendors may have paid for more spaces than you gave them in the plan and then you may also have vendors claim that they paid for more spots than they did. That’s just dealing with vendors. If your event is an indoor and outdoor event and bad weather occurs you may need to deal with finding space for all your outdoor vendors. Adapting to the situation will allow you to create a much better experience for yourself and your vendors.

I had a vendor no show at my event this past weekend. That means I was able to move two vendors form tables in the middle of the room to the longer tables. This not only allowed them more space for their wares, but this move allowed for more space for the ritual and the entertainment which had to be moved inside. The next photo is an illustration of what the new plan became that day with vendors moved, lost and space for ritual and entertainment.

This past weekend I had to adapt. We had to move the entertainment, a few vendors, and the ritual for our community day event inside the UU church that the event took place at. Thankfully there was a hallway and the vendors were able to find a space and everyone got traffic. Instead of being outside they were moved inside and down a hallway which forced people to walk by the vendors as they walked to the workshops or panels of the event.

I hope these tips and lessons help you out in the future when you plan your own events. I know I have already started to apply them to my next venture whenever that may be.

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