Atheist conferences can be lots of fun to attend. We have a plethora of entertaining speakers. Being in the majority instead of the minority can be a very pleasant change. Meeting and speaking with activists is incredibly inspiring.
However, as great as these events are, they’re out of reach for a lot of people. Even a conference like Skepticon, which has no entrance fee, involves travel, lodging, and time off of work for a large percentage of the people who attend. That can rule out people with children, people who work weekends, people who simply don’t have much disposable income.
Whether trying to be more inclusive or just meeting a rising demand for atheist activities, more groups are starting local conventions and other types of events. This requires a remarkable amount of work, usually supplied by volunteers (often college students) who have never run a large event before. At the same time, the proliferation of events means that there is more expertise available to be shared.
In order to facilitate that sharing, I decided this spring that I wanted to start a project that would collect resources for event planners. The end product will be specific to atheist and skeptical events, but it will draw on expertise from other types of events as well. The following is a quick overview of the types of topics to be covered.
- The purpose of the event
- Picking a date
- Picking a venue
- Setting fees
- Working with venues
- Working with hotels
- Planning for emergencies
- Setting a schedule
- Selecting speakers and topics
- Transportation and parking
- Coordinating volunteers
- Running tech
- Feeding an audience
- Opportunities for socializing
- Care and feeding of speakers
- Making Q&A work
- Working on the cheap
- Advertising and promotion
- Social media
The decisions made in many of these areas affect who will attend your event. Others are simply administrative necessities for making your event run smoothly, which determines whether people will have a good time and want to come back. The guide will provide best practices from events that are considered well-run, and it will identify trade-offs in decision-making.
For example, while a bar provides a low-cost venue, it is not welcoming to parents with children, those who desire to avoid alcohol, or people who have mild hearing impairments. Campus locations allow you to seat large numbers of people cheaply, but they may limit food options or opportunities for socializing in the evening. Certain hotels may be very accessible to public transportation, but they will increase the overall price of your event. Events in cities that meet the needs of underserved populations may be far from major airports.
There will always be trade-offs. The point of this project is to make it easier to identify them and make conscious decisions about them. It is also to encourage more people and groups to run events, so a wider variety of populations will be served.
Where will the information for the project come from? Lots of places, not all of them what you would expect. For example, there are a number of highly successful science fiction and fantasy conventions that are affordably run by fans rather than professionals. One of these, WisCon, helped to inform the team that made the Madison Freethought Festival a success this April. The unconference model has also been used to create affordable events under the Skepticamp label.
Eliza Kashinsky, Chief of Staff of the Secular Coalition of America, and Lauren Lane, part of the committee running Skepticon, are also going to be working on this project. Each of them supplies an expertise in this area that I sorely lack, but there will definitely be room for more. If you have event-running experience and want to be a part of this, use the email button in the sidebar here to contact me.
Otherwise, keep your eyes open. Only part of this project is collecting best practices. The other part is determining the effect of these decisions. For that, we’ll need input. I won’t be shy about asking, starting with a survey fairly soon. Hopefully, you won’t be shy about answering. Then we can encourage events that meet your needs.
To that end, let’s start now. What did I leave off my list that’s important to you?