Staffing for Events

Continuing my riff on Event Management, today I’ll be discussing recruiting team members for the event. A reader commented about an external event management company on the last post, so let me clarify that the assumption for these posts is that you don’t have access to a professional management company. You might be a volunteer event leader, you might be paid, but in all the essentials, you will be learning on the job and you will be on your own (aside, perhaps, for advice from others and this blog). Let’s go find some people!

Types of Events and Volunteers

It should be evident by now that the larger the event, the more people you will need to do everything.

Example: Convention Booth

How many volunteers do you need?

Convention centers typically sell booth space in 10-foot-by-10-foot (3-meter-by-3-meter) blocks. These can be single blocks, two next to each other, a full row (say, 5 blocks), or much full sections measuring 10 x 20 meters or larger. If you’ve got a very large corporate/organization booth, the org might have its own assembly team, especially when some of the booths include actual office space, large displays, or even platforms and multiple floors.

For those simpler, smaller 3X3 meter booths, you’ll still need someone or several someones with the vehicle(s) and physical strength/capacity to bring in all the booth’s materials and set them up. This could include putting up signs, setting up small displays, and laying out brochures on tables. Your setup team might or might not be the same people who come back to break down the booth and take back all the signage and remaining brochures to the organization.

During the actual convention, you’ll likely go in shifts, depending on how long the event/vendors room is open. You might have need person staffing the booth during lunch. A single-block booth won’t fit more than 3-4 volunteers–fewer, if there is a table in front of it. They’ll be responsible for talking with the public about your organization and its current program(s) or activities. They might or might not have chairs, so they have to be able to be on their feet during their shift, which will require comfortable shoes (I’ll cover volunteer guidelines in another post).

Simple, yes?

Multi-Day Convention

Leadership/Planning Staff
A larger event, where you’re the one heading an event where convention booths are just one small part will require more people, time, and planning. Generally, you want to have some highly organized people working on the front end, handling things such as booth space, speakers/speaking tracks, meals, registration, public relations, budgeting, and “other” (which can include area tours, special events, VIPs, etc.). It helps if the individual has had related or actual experience, but isn’t always necessary if they prove to be adept at doing their volunteer job for the event. (I’ll also discuss personnel issues in another post.) Other important considerations for your “senior” volunteers include their related experience, available time, and other commitments. An individual might be eminently qualified, but if they don’t have time to help, you might be better off recruiting someone else who can learn on the job.

Operations Staff
Depending on the size and range of their activities, they might need help as well. Your first team members (and you) are the first event recruiters. When you get to the days of the event, you’ll definitely want more people–again, depending on the number of attendees and amount of space being taken up. Then you’ll be needing people to staff registration, check tickets at meals and events, support audio-visual and computer issues (unless the event location has staff for that), watch the exhibit room with the booths, or maybe just give directions.

Other Thoughts on Recruiting

I tried to err on the side of caution when it came to “operations” volunteers, meaning double-staffing each job in case one person calls in sick or just doesn’t show up. Emergencies happen. It’s no one’s fault, necessarily, though if you have individuals who are consistently not showing up, it can help to have those extra bodies around so you can shuffle them around to handle the expected blank spot on the schedule.

Again, I’ll use a separate post to talk about volunteer guidelines, such as appearance, job descriptions, and training, so expect more on that topic soon.

The important things to think about when bringing in volunteers for events are familiar to proposal writers: experience and past performance. Does the volunteer have the necessary experience to do the job? Have they proven themselves reliable? That’s really all you can go by until the event begins. Then the ones who are up for the challenge will shine and the others…well, maybe they’ll just call in sick.

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About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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