Tips for choosing your squad: excited volunteers

Wherever you organise something cool like a convention, geek event or wedding, people are going to get excited and want to help you. If it’s your wedding it’s people who like you and your partner, or just the romance of the thing, or people who see you’re drowning and need help… If it’s for a geek event, it will be random people who’re excited, your friends and occasionally people who want to get in to the scene. So how on earth do you choose your organiser team, your bride tribe, your groom group, or just your peeps?

I learned a lot from working with and heading up convention committees and chatting with other organisers. I also made plenty of mistakes.

My con committees

I was lucky with my con baby. I adopted it after someone else started it and I didn’t have to choose a committee. That’s because Upcon was a student convention at the University of Pretoria run by the TKV, a student society.

The committee was sometimes elected, and sometimes made up of whoever was willing to do it again (or for the first time) that year. In other words, it was less Fellowship of the Ring debates and choosing members to represent Middle Earth and more Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where we gathered people as we went along and told silly stories.

The Great Geek Collective’s committee was made up of people I met through the TKV, people I knew through the gaming scene and some friends. I learned a lot from working with and heading up convention committees and chatting with other organisers. I also made plenty of mistakes.

Know what you want before talking about your event

When you’re putting together an idea for a cool event or have just announced your engagement, people will get overly excited. I chatted over my ideas for my wedding and my convention with a few close friends before deciding what to do with them. Only once I knew what the general idea and setting was, did I start talking to other people. If the general community catches on to your idea and starts gossiping before things are finalised, it could create false expectations, make you look incompetent or look like bad planning.

Things I learned the hard way, so you don’t have to

Enthusiasm is not volunteering – check in later

When you’re organising something cool, people get excited. It’s like brainstorming. People think of what they’re good at, what they could contribute, what would be awesome. The trick here is that people think of what would be possible in an ideal world where time and money aren’t factors.

If someone blurts out in enthusiasm that they’d love to make you a wedding cake, it means they like the idea. Get back to them later and ask for details about what they’ve got time to do without expecting anything. Don’t take it personally if enthusiasm doesn’t translate to action.

People inviting themselves to the event – don’t allow it if it’s a wedding

If you’re organising your geek event or convention and people are so excited they’re inviting their friends and sharing things everywhere, congratulations! In my experience having digital word-of-mouth (aka people getting excited because they’ve been to one of your events so they want to be at the next one and bring their friends) is fantastic. For a small geek event, this also helps you keep the con’s vibe.

People know I can throw a pretty decent small convention, so they want to come to my wedding. And since I’m my family’s beloved oddball, they’re looking forward to it too. So of course I’ve had people try to invite themselves to my wedding. Some of them go the “I’ll never forgive you if you don’t invite me” route while others jokingly angle for an invitation. In general, I just smile and don’t take it further.

Purely practical arrangements – useful people

You have to choose a balance between not hurting people’s feelings and getting the help you need. If you’re working on a geek event, you’re less likely to hurt a fan’s feelings by politely turning down help, but with friends and weddings, emotions can run high.

Let’s take the wedding party. I think one of the reasons brides are having larger entourages is because it’s a valid strategy to make sure you don’t hurt friends by leaving them out, but at the same time you can include practical people who will help you. It’s like a programmer building in redundancies and fail-safes.

Personally, I prefer having a smaller team of people I can just rely on, but that sometimes means having to do things yourself.

Enthusiastic people volunteer for jobs they can’t realistically do – politely refuse

Excited people are prime candidates for the Dunning-Kruger effect. They are so happy that something cool is happening that they can imagine themselves playing a star role in it.

I had a 15 year old demonstrate this to me with my wedding. My planning looks like Chaos. I have a lot of lists, and ideas in my head that aren’t written down, and my paperwork tends to spread out to every room I’m in. But I can organise an event. Anyway, the teenager wants to be a wedding planner and offered to plan my wedding. I said I thought I could manage it on my own.

You’re not a bad person for saying no

You might want to get into event organising because you like doing something nice for people. It’s definitely possible to do that, but you have to be practical as well. If you’ve gone through my list and can’t see yourself saying “no”, the first person for your squad should be someone who can help you do that.

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