Saturday, April 21, 2012

Thoughts on Seminars

As a person who was out of the knitting biz many years and came back in after the YouTube beginner project, and after working in corporations in the meantime, and after being in leadership in a professional group that plans a lot of activities, I'm finding doing machine knitting seminars fascinating.  I also had the interesting experience of helping our Austin club put on a seminar.

I'm in between seminars right now.  I got home from Spring Fling last Sunday evening and went right back to my corporate job the next day.  I'm about half unpacked and some of it is being repacked on the spot to go to Raleigh.  I'm also mailing another big box to Raleigh, once the contents are ready.

Stuff I learned about machine knitting seminars:

1.  Every time a group puts on a seminar, they learn something or other.  It is very valuable to keep notes and keep trying things to work out what's best.  Charlene at Knit Knack Shop, with her experience putting on fantastic seminars, is absolutely amazing.   I was fascinated at how her team pulls it together.

2.  Putting on a seminar is expensive.  Unfortunately, a lot of the costs aren't visible to the knitters but are simply unavoidable.  Your biggest costs will be travel, teacher fees, a space for the event, and meals.  You are going to have to charge attendees a fee, and you'll need to figure out what your expenses will be and create a budget.  You need a strong leader and a manpower budget.

3.  Air travel is getting more uncomfortable and expensive.  We've all noticed the escalating prices of airfare and the surcharges for luggage.  I used Delta Airlines on these last two flights.  While I enjoyed having an assigned seat, I hated the luggage surcharge.  Lots of passengers try to get around that by using carry-ons, which adds to the difficulties in boarding and deplaning.  I had to check three bags - carry-ons are too small for the items needed.  That was in addition to shipping three small boxes through Fedex, then mailing one home afterwards and two on to Raleigh.  The carry-ons cost $85 each way.  I worry about losing my luggage, which has irreplaceable samples in it, and a little less concerned about Fedex losing those items.  I did attend a terrific seminar in Dallas once where the airlines nearly lost the teacher's things (Sandee Cherry).  Sandee had to be totally stressed, but managed to deal with this with beautiful grace, and eventually the luggage turned up... Some of the teachers are driving to seminars so they can carry enough items (I really didn't have everything I would prefer to have along), but I don't have enough vacation time to pull that off.  

4.  One great thing about Spring Fling was with a big crowd, you can sell a lot of items and teacher expenses are covered so the teacher ends up ahead.  It is very difficult to manage without an assistant. Because this was a big event, I could afford to bring an assistant (who does it mostly out of kindness and receives only a small fee).  She cashiers, answers questions, helps me stay organized, you name it, while I concentrate 100% on the knitters.  I tend to stay after every class talking to knitters, pack as much content into classes as I humanly can, and generally am completely engaged in knitting, talking, listening, explaining, and making sure my knitters are getting as much out of the experience as possible.   She is also very, very busy. 

Where I'm going with this point is, if you want to have a fantastic seminar and get the most out of your teacher, you might assign a couple people in the club to her help her cashier and whatever else needs done. She cannot afford to do seminars unless she sells some of her items and promotes her business, and the participants who want to shop will be very disappointed if they can't get assistance in purchasing items.

5.  Food is a big, difficult job.  Some people have special food needs.  In Austin, we potlucked the food, and we were extremely lucky to have Rose, Stacy, and Mary just dig in and get it done beautifully. Austin had very little budget, so we had to donate items to cover things like meals and supplies.  I got a big kick out of the clever things Charlene did about food for Spring Fling, but she did comment that one of the most difficult jobs for her is arranging and serving lunch.  She included a lovely slice of pie with our box lunches, totally a treat, and there were goodies in the lunches like string cheese and chocolate.  Another thing she did that was BRILLIANT:  in the middle of the warm, sleepy afternoon, we had good old fashioned popsicles!  How refreshing.  That was genius, Charlene. 

6.  You need a big space for seminars, and this can be very challenging and expensive.  You pull this off with some networking and creativity.  In Austin, where rents are outrageious, we borrowed rooms from a church in a quiet suburb and made a donation.  In Houston, they use a city building.  In Indiana, Charlene rents a fairgrounds pavilion (nice and big).  In the Chicago suburbs, we were in a large home (which actually worked just great).  Dallas uses the wonderful Stacey's Furniture building near the airport. 

7.  Lots of knitters drive to a seminar from an area with very little, if any, local shopping, so they want to shop at seminar.  Everyone enjoyed the shopping tremendously at Spring Fling, and at other seminars I've attended, a yarn supplier or dealer might be there with cone yarn or members might go ahead and sell used gear if there wasn't a dealer to have some goodies for sale. At our shoestring first seminar in Austin, we ran a little swap meet table, and we took turns cashiering.  We also had a few donated items to sell with proceeds to the club.

8.  Include fun in your seminar!  Have door prizes (perhaps your vendors will donate some, and certainly club members will), show-and-tell, do whatever you can to make it fun.  Cultivate a fun culture and show appreciation to everyone who helps.  Here's a fascinating challenge - to run a great seminar requires the backbone of a drill sergeant and the outward appearance of a cruise ship activity director.

9.  Allow enough time to plan your seminar.  This is a huge undertaking.  You need to book teachers far in advance.  You need to book travel and lodging early to get decent deals.  You need to split up the work and get it all done.

10.  Try to have a camera and TV setup so everyone can see the demonstrator's hands.  A sound system is wonderful, too.  We are so addicted to our TV setup that Barbara's husband does it for us at each club meeting at her house!  This isn't so terribly hard to do.  For instance, in Raleigh, they have a TV in the room.  I'll take my tiny video camera, tripod, and RCA cables, which should be fine for most TVs.  You're not videotaping the event; what you're doing is just running a video feed into a television.

11.  Is there a machine repair guy in your area?  Maybe he'll come to seminar.  Charlene's husband Harold worked at Spring Fling, doing quick repairs and assessing items that take longer.  At a couple seminars, my husband came along and changed Passap batteries for a nominal fee (it's necessary to un-soldier the battery and soldier in a new one; this requires a special tool to get the old soldier out, and a certain skill level).

12.  You must promote your seminar!  Notify all the nearby clubs and yarn shops.  Put multiple notices on the available Yahoo groups which permit such announcements.  Make multiple announcements at club meetings.  Ask your teachers to promote the seminar, too.  See if the local paper and radio stations will do any free notices or PSAs.  Try to run you seminar around the same time each year to help develop repeat attenders.

1 comment:

  1. What an excellent review of Spring Fling! It was all that and MORE! There was so much information and the ideas were absolutely swirling in our heads by Friday afternoon! Thank you for your gracious approach to developing machine knitting skills. I haven't started my first sock on my standard gauge yet, but there is lots of action going on with practicing stitch manipulation and that just adds to my whole skill set!! Awesome Event! Brenda McCoy, IN