By Emily Jackman
Seminars are amazing opportunities for attracting new practitioners, giving existing ones a chance at training with high level instructors and building up your budo network but what happens if you’re the one doing all the planning? Where do you start and how do you keep sane in the process?
Well, as a certain singing nun would say, ‘let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start’. What are the very basic things you need to organise in order to have a seminar?
- Meal options
Let’s look at each item individually and see how they interact.
If you’re lucky enough to already have a training venue – congratulations! You’re ahead of the game. If it’s a shared/hired space make sure to confirm availability and costs for your preferred dates well ahead of time.
If you need to find a venue, again, early confirmation is key. Depending on the season and local events, you may find that securing a decent location means being very flexible on your seminar dates. It may be necessary to utilise different venues during the seminar so take into account transporting of equipment between locations.
Be ready to negotiate with the venue on costs and facilities – if you have an idea how many people the venue could accommodate based on its size, then work out how much you as a participant would be willing to pay for the full seminar and multiply it out to determine if the venue is cost-effective. Unless you’ve got a nice cash reserve you want to make sure that you’re not going to be horribly out of pocket at the end. A simple formula is:
Seminar Fee/day = Total Venue Hire* / (Number of Participants x Number of Days)
* If there are additional costs to take into account such as transport/accommodation, add them into the Total Venue Hire figure
So if the venue will be charging $1000 for 2 days and it can accommodate 20 participants, then the participant fee per day would need to be $25 to break even. Always consider if that fee is reasonable and if you want to do a discount rate for full seminar participation opposed to individual day attendance. I prefer to estimate with a lower number of participants rather than the maximum just to be safe.
Consider the floor condition – painted concrete looks nice but is very hard on the feet. Older wooden floors may have splintering or be too uneven to practice upon – the finish on it may also cause issues. Go for a site visit and if you can, bare your feet and see how it feels.
Prepare a standard set of questions for the facility manager so you can compare between different options:
- Does the venue offer parking facilities? Are they an extra charge?
- Is it close to public transport or your recommended accommodation?
- Can you bring outside meals in?
- Does it require that you have insurance to cover damage or injury?
- Are there working toilets and/or changerooms?
- Are there secure storage facilities and can they be used overnight during the seminar to store equipment?
- Do they require a bond be paid and under what circumstances might you lose it?
- Do they have cancellation fees and what is the latest you can cancel?
- Are there additional fees for facility staff/locking up/cleaning?
- What are the hours it can be used and are there extra fees if you run overtime?
- Are there kitchen facilities and can they be part of the hire?
Hopefully this is one of the first things you’ve got information on – who’s going to lead the seminar instruction. I’d certainly suggest hitting up your network to see who you can encourage to come along – the All Japan Jukendo Federation is keen to spread the form so reach out and see what you can get. You will need to ensure that you have a clear understanding of the instructors expectations in terms of things like accommodation, travel, meals etc. Find out what dates will best suit them and plan your event around that if you can.
Now, not everyone is going to have the proper equipment. Depending on the type of seminar you’ll need to lay out clearly your minimum expectations for participants – is it just that they bring their own bogu or do they need to have their own kata and mokuju to attend? Do you have enough spare equipment to outfit people and if so, will that limit how many participants you allow?
If you’re very lucky, some nice person/company may sponsor your event which will give you access to either money or the equipment. If not, then talk to other clubs in the area if possible to see if they can help in the supply of gear. If you’re part of a supportive alternate budo federation see if they’ll offer financial support to purchase equipment to help kickstart your art.
Be very clear in your mind how many people your current equipment can support – you may need to get creative in terms of seminar design and say half the participants do jukendo, the other half tankendo for the session and then swap over.
Getting people enthused and involved can be difficult when it’s a new art in the area. Most of us probably do another art already so do your best to pique their interest – if they like hitting with one stick they’ll probably quite enjoy trying another. Get on social media and look for other local groups that may have an associated interest – local Japanese cultural groups or universities. Make sure that you have an easy way for them to contact you and provide as much information as you can.
I always like to get an idea of numbers early on so asking people to fill out an expression of interest using a survey tool or Google Forms or even just a basic social media poll can help you figure out what the interest level is. When it comes to the actual registration process, start it early so people can plan if there may be travel/holiday time involved and make it as easy as possible. If you can create a spreadsheet that auto-calculates fees based on choices – great! Or maybe use Google Forms event RSVP templates to record registrations.
Take the opportunity with registration to get as much relevant information as possible – are they under 18 and need parental approval? Do they have their own equipment? Do they have their own sports insurance?
This one’s always fun – depending on your country, laws, venue you may need to factor insurance into your seminar costs. If you already have club insurance or your participants confirm they have their own, you’ll probably be okay but make sure that if additional insurance is required that you know the costs up front. Get quotes and build them into your seminar fees early so there’s no nasty surprises later in the planning.
For personal travel insurance, providers such as World Nomads (https://www.worldnomads.com/) are a good place to start at as they do cover martial arts which not all do.
Consider the accessibility of your chosen venue – participants will be lugging a fair amount of equipment along so how easy would it be for them to get there? Make it clear to participants what the transport options are for getting there themselves or if it’s a more remote venue, investigate maybe hiring a mini-bus/van to move all the equipment from a single point to the venue and have people make their own way without having to drag their own gear. If you do go the vehicle hire option, look at the costs involved, insurance, parking and who’s going to do the driving.
If you’re planning to offer meals during the seminar, check that the venue has no issues with bringing in outside food. Work out what a reasonable charge would be for meals and determine how it’s going to get there – are there delivery fees involved? Do they cater for allergies or other dietary requirements?
If you’re allowed to use kitchen facilities, determine what equipment is there and what you might bring to allow people to do their own catering. Is there a fridge, microwave, sandwich maker? Is there cutlery, plates, glassware? Do you have to wash everything by hand or is there a dishwasher and who draws the short straw to unpack it?
Alternatively, get a clear idea of what food options are near to the venue and advertise that to participants – how many good/cheap places are there to eat within a 5 minute walk?
It’s possible you’re also planning to do a Welcome/Farewell dinner in which case get that booked in early. Set menus make life really easy but make sure it’s somewhere that can be easily travelled to with a good range of options.
This one’s more of an issue if you have non-local attendees…which may include your instructors. If your club is having to pay for accommodation, factor that into your seminar costs or see if you can raise donations to cover that separately. Check out the accommodation yourself – if possible, stay a night to confirm you’re not recommending something out of a horror movie.
You want to make sure the accommodation options aren’t going to drive people away from attending so if you know there’s a decent sized group, talk to the Reservations Manager and try to negotiate prices. If it’s far enough ahead of time, or a large enough group, or their quiet season then you can probably get a decent room rate.
You can also get creative – look at booking out a whole house/apartment with multiple rooms/beds and offering that to attendees. Yes, they may have to make their own beds but it can be more cost-effective. Are any locals willing to house some participants? Leverage your network!
Plan well ahead if you can and work through worst case scenarios – money is a big consideration. If things need to be paid up front are you paying out of your own funds and if so, can you afford to do that? Look at local fundraising opportunities to see if you can cushion the blow and be sure that if you may end up out of pocket that it’s not going to be a financial disaster for you.
After that, the best advice I can give you though is ask for help. If it’s a small event you may be able to organise things yourself but chances are you’re going to go crazy if you’re short on time, or money or natural organisation-fu. Even asking for advice from your network can give you ideas on how to best utilise your time and efforts. Don’t let frustration build up inside – talk it out even if it’s just to that inspiring poster of Alex Bennett that you’ve got stuck on your wall*.
* I would like to clarify that I do not have a poster of Alex on my wall. I may occasionally talk at his books on my bookshelf though.