Image courtesy of Amed Zayan at Unsplash

I have two mottos when it comes to festival planning:

“Relax. Nothing is under control.”

and

“We’re always building the better mousetrap.”

The first motto, frankly, keeps me sane (in a strictly relative sense) as we head into the whirlwind of chaos that is boots-on-the-ground Pagan event leadership. Once you’ve planned everything you can plan, it’s time to enjoy the fruits of your labor — the event. The cats are about as wrangled as they’re going to get, and you need to let the machinery run.

Will there be problems? Heck ya! Things you didn’t foresee or can’t control (like the behavior of the attendees, the weather, and the health of your team) will undoubtedly pop up. You’ll mitigate them in the moment to the best of your ability, and use these opportunities to put Motto #2 into motion. Between the unforeseen and the suggestions of others, you will know at least a few things you can improve upon for your next event.

The Notebook

Try to trust me on this. Get yourself a spiral notebook and a pen that you carry everywhere with you during the event. (Tech is great, and I am not knocking it, but magickal events with lots of high energy running rampant are notorious spaces for tech to get wonky. Wi-Fi fails. Power flares or drains. If you’re camping, there is dust and humidity and just NATURE getting into crevices and frying motherboards. Low-tech is a blessing in these conditions.)

In this notebook, feel encouraged to write down literally anything that occurs to you or is shared with you during the event that you think you might need to know later. The kinds of things that end up in my own notebooks include:

  • Shopping lists of store runs (for the supplies we forgot — or depleted already)
  • Flashes of inspiration for “festival life hacks” (like putting your event schedule on a printed hand-fan, which Babalon Rising has been doing ever since we realized the program booklets were serving double-duty anyway)
  • Classes/rituals we’d like to see in the future
  • Presenters recommended by attendees
  • Website typos that folks very helpfully point out while the event is underway
  • Names of exceptionally helpful helpers
  • Names of helpers that sub-organizers are having trouble with (poor skill-matches, no-shows, etc)

My own notebook ends up being a catch-all for both me and my husband (who is the other Co-Director of Babalon Rising Festival), and it can also serve as a running to-do list for other folks on your organizing team. After the event has ended, you’ll be able to process through the notes you scribbled and start taking appropriate action. Email that organizer about the reminder they asked for. Post a public thank you to that helper who saved your bacon. Correct your website typos.

This is not necessarily an elegant tip, and I feel like it seems almost too obvious to be useful; however, the few organizers I know who actively take notes (in any format) as the event is happening are the ones who are making innovations and keeping their people happy.

Encourage Feedback from ALL Stakeholders

To get a clear and complete idea of what your event is doing well and where it could benefit from growth, you really have to get feedback from every available angle. All the people who are involved in your festival have a stake in its success. The organizers obviously have a vested interest in running a great event, but the attendees, helpers, performers, presenters, vendors, and even the venue hosts want and need a smooth-running and enjoyable experience. All of these groups can shed light on different areas of challenge and success, since they are all seeing the event from a slightly different vantage point.

You can opt for low- or high(er)-tech in your feedback options, but definitely give folks the opportunity to provide anonymous praise and/or critique. Most people have been very indoctrinated with the belief that it is better to say nothing at all rather than provide even slightly critical feedback. That’s too bad, since we learn from both success and failure (or shortfalls, if you prefer). We need both to know what bits are the good work that need to be kept up and which bits need to be rethought.

So, let your stakeholders know that their responses are valued as part of your planning process. If you genuinely want to improve and keep growing (in event quality AND/OR attendee quantity), then you truly do value the targeted feedback these groups can give you.

Targeted Feedback

I encourage you to create feedback opportunities for the different segments of your audience. Whether you are using something low-tech like paper feedback sheets that can be collected onsite or something higher-tech like Survey Monkey or Google Forms, you can ask both general questions that everyone answers and also questions that will be relevant to each specific group.

Allow folks to provide some feedback along a scale (as opposed to yes/no questions) and also in open-ended formats. Sometimes yes/no are legitimately the only choices, but the truth of a person’s experience is often more nuanced than that. 

General questions that you ask of all attendees might include:

  • On a scale of 1 (worst) to 10 (best), please rate the ease of your registration experience.
  • On a scale of 1 (worst) to 10 (best), please rate the communication you received from the festival prior to arrival.
  • On a scale of 1 (worst) to 10 (best), please rate the cleanliness of the facilities (showers, restrooms, class spaces)
  • On a scale of 1 (worst) to 10 (best), please rate the accessibility and responsiveness of festival staff to your questions/needs.
  • On a scale of 1 (worst) to 10 (best), please rate the quality of the workshops/classes/rituals/performances.
  • Please list any performances/classes/presenters that stood out to you as exceptional (and why).
  • Which presenters would you be interested in seeing at this event in the future?
  • List 3 topics you would like to see discussed at a future event.

Specific questions you might ask of the various segments include:

  • On a scale of 1 (worst) to 10 (best), please rate the communication you received from the Vendor Coordinator prior to the event.
  • On a scale of 1 (worst) to 10 (best), please rate the helpfulness of the Vendor Coordinator during your stay.
  • On a scale of 1 (worst) to 10 (best), please rate the ease of set-up/tear-down in your vending location.
  • On a scale of 1 (least likely) to 5 (most likely), please rate your likelihood of vending at this event in the future.
  • What could the event or the Vendor Coordinator do/provide in order to make your experience easier or more comfortable?
  • What services/amenities/features did the event or the Vendor Coordinator provide during this stay that you appreciated?

Yes, I focused just on vendor feedback for these last six examples, but these sorts of questions are easily adapted to other segments. 

If possible, it is a smart and helpful idea to get feedback about specific classes/rituals and the presenters who offered them. This can give the event feedback about the “fit” of that presenter within the event’s overall culture, as well as provide both the event and the presenter with valuable praise and suggestions for improvement.

Logistics

You may come up with ideas that are more innovative than these, but please allow me to share some simple logistics for gathering feedback, no matter your size or tech capabilities.

Paper Feedback Sheets & Suggestion Boxes

If you go with paper feedback sheets, make a different feedback form for each group (vendors, presenters, staff, paid attendees, etc) and include them in their registration packets, which they will pick up when they sign in at the front gate. You can either stuff all the bits (registration form, program, feedback sheet, adverts, badge/wristband, and any other paper you are providing) into manila envelopes marked with each individual’s name OR you can have manila envelopes marked  with each “type” of packet in the quantities you need for each group (plus some extra, because mistakes happen). 

To accompany all this paper, make several collection boxes for the sheets. I suggest small-ish plastic totes with a slit cut into the tops, set in weather-protected locations. The front gate/registration area is an obvious place, as are the info booth and each workshop meeting location. Post signs near the boxes reminding everyone to submit their feedback before leaving.

You can include a general-use “Presentation/Ritual Feedback Form” on half sheets of paper asking attendees to rate the quality of the presentation, preparedness and audience-engagement of the presenter, etc. These are best kept in shoebox-sized plastic containers in the class/workshop areas, along with the feedback collection boxes.

Benefits of this kind of system include receiving immediate feedback from folks while their thoughts and opinions are fresh. Downsides include having to sort and tabulate all the data by hand, as well as driving up your event’s printing costs, and the likelihood that folks will forget to bring the forms with them (or turn them) before leaving.

Google Forms

Create separate feedback forms using Google Forms (which is a free service). Include the links (and even create and share QR codes) for each in your relevant communications before and after the event. Display posters/banners with the “general feedback” QR code in prominent areas, such as class spaces, info booth, and front gate. Provide vendors, presenters, and staff with business card-sized reminders to access their specialized feedback sheets.

Benefits of this type of system include digital data compilation, ease of access from most devices (even on-site, if you have Internet connectivity), availability on-demand both during and after the event, and paper reduction. Downsides include lack of accessibility for less tech-savvy or tech-equipped folks — although this one can be solved by making a small quantity of paper forms available upon request

Conclusion

That’s it! In our consideration of feedback and improvement, we have firmly set the tail in the serpent’s mouth, ready to start a new cycle of festival planning that is ever-evolving.

Go forth and make great events! (And please invite your friendly, neighborhood ev0ke contributors.)

Resources:

Pew Center — “Writing Survey Questions” — https://www.pewresearch.org/our-methods/u-s-surveys/writing-survey-questions/

Survey Monkey —  “How to Write Good Survey & Poll Questions” — https://www.surveymonkey.com/mp/writing-survey-questions/

Indeed for Business — “Creating a Positive Feedback Loop in Your Business (With Examples” — https://www.indeed.com/hire/c/info/positive-feedback-loop

Monkey Learn — “Positive and Negative Feedback Loops for Powerful Business Decisions” — https://monkeylearn.com/blog/feedback-loop/

[Laurelei Black is a TradCraft Witch and Aphrodisian with 25+ years experience in event and program planning. Getting her start during her freshman year of college, Laurelei has been involved in campus programming, alumni events, campouts, retreats, and festivals. She is the Co-Director of the Babalon Rising Pan-Thelemic Festival and the Director of the Women’s Goddess Retreat, in addition to being a Director and lead festival organizer for Camp Midian in Southern Indiana. ]

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