These tips were distilled from a discussion between the following panelists at LingComm21 in April 2021:
Plan how you will attract an audience. There are many possible things that people can do with their time, so getting people to show up is often the most difficult part of an event. Think carefully about who you are trying to reach and how you might make it easier for them to choose to attend. Is there a place where your desired audience already gathers that you could go to? Is there an organization or group that has ready access to your audience that might be open to hosting you or partnering with you? If you can make use of existing connections or forge new ones, do so. Weak attendance will make your event frustrating even if everything else about it is fantastic.
Consider how your event format relates to your lingcomm goals. Events can take many different forms: workshops, activity fairs, open houses, or lectures, to name just a few. These days, events may also happen in person or virtually. In some cases, especially if your event is part of a larger series or a partnership, the format might be largely decided for you; in other cases, you might have a say in defining it. Regardless, as you are planning the event, the format and goals should mutually inform one another. If you’re aiming to get into a lot of detail about a topic, for instance, an activity fair with lots of brief interactions is probably not the best fit. Work with the format of the event rather than against it: for example, if your event is taking place in person, invite attendees to brainstorm ideas together on a whiteboard rather than in a shared document online. If your event is virtual, structure it so that people can play around with a website simulation of the vocal tract rather than watching you manipulate a physical model.
Keep the audience’s needs in mind, and think well beyond the need to introduce concepts accessibly. For real-time events, in particular, consider the physical needs of your attendees. Is there seating available? Is the event scheduled at a time when people might normally expect to eat, and are you providing food or leaving time during which they can eat food that they’ve supplied? Is the event long enough that you should include breaks for bathroom use and leg stretching? Virtual events do not absolve you of these responsibilities, as virtual audience members still inhabit physical bodies and may need time for their physical needs.
Prioritize interaction over information. One major advantage of approaching lingcomm via an event, rather than writing, podcasts, or videos, is that two-way interaction is frequently possible. Don’t waste that advantage. In whatever ways the event format allows, invite the audience to help shape the experience—for example, by asking questions or voting on topics—even if it reduces the amount of information you convey. If you succeed in getting the audience excited about a topic, they can turn to other sources later on to learn more. And especially if young children are your audience, getting them excited about something is much less intimidating, and more easily achievable, than getting them to understand detailed content.
Don’t equate trinkets with an experience. It’s tempting to want to hand out stickers, temporary tattoos, branded pencils, or other small items to members of the audience to stoke excitement. In some scenarios, this makes sense, such as an activity fair at which all the booths have swag, or a recurring event series that you want to keep top of mind for past attendees. However, being able to take something home does not automatically create a meaningful lingcomm experience. Further, depending on the venue, there may be restrictions on what you can distribute, and trinkets of course require a portion of your budget. Be critical about what they add to your event and whether you’re relying on them as a stand-in for meaningful engagement.
Prepare for the future. If you might be involved with similar events later on, solicit feedback from your current audience in the form of a simple question or brief survey to let you know whether you accomplished what you wanted to and help you make decisions about future events. Additionally, if you plan to continue targeting the same audience, collect contact information to start building a list of past attendees to whom you can advertise future events.
Embrace the unexpected. Events are generally not as controllable as other forms of lingcomm like writing, podcasts, and videos. When live interactions with people are involved, there are countless ways in which things might not go as intended. It’s good practice to identify and develop contingency plans for any major issues that might jeopardize the event, but no matter how much you strategize ahead of time, you’ll also need to bring a taste for adventure and be ready to problem-solve in the moment.
This post is part of a series of resources from LingComm21: