Thursday, October 17, 2013

Running a BIG Seminar from a SMALL Club

I'm a little late finishing and posting this, but after yet another awesome seminar from a small club (in this case, three small clubs participated - Canfield seems like a pretty small town to me), I've been thinking about clever things I've seen small clubs do to put on a BIG, FUN seminar.  Here's are big take-aways for those of you who want to grow your clubs, popularize machine knitting, and generally have a fantastic time at your very own seminar.

1.  Is your club too small, or have you no club at all?  Go to Yahoo Groups and look at those machine knitting forums, check out Ravelry, and look for machine knitters in your area! Phone your local yarn shops and hobby stores.  Contact sister groups within 100 miles.  You have to begin somewhere, and the place to begin is to see if you have some people who might participate.

2.  Line up your volunteers.  Be bold about asking people to help, beg family members to pitch in, and work through a list of tasks together.  Find a determined leader to champion the project. 

3.  Build a budget.  Our first seminar at Knit Natters decided that we couldn't afford to use any of our club's cash in the bank.  You need to build a break-even budget for your seminar, but if you have a little balance to start, you'll be willing to follow a more ambitious budget.  You have to start somewhere, but once you start, you have momentum for the next seminar.

4.  Find a location.  Be creative!  Here are some places I've taught seminars, so far:

  • City offices
  • Museum community room
  • Church classroom
  • Living room at a knitter's home (photo is the Chicago group holding a terrific seminar in a gorgeous living room)
  • Community college classrooms
  • Fairground buildings
  • Library community room
There are other places you can use, too - some companies will let you use a conference room.  Hotels and conference centers have rooms for rent.  Ask around, do Google searches, and you'll be surprised.

4.  Set the date - this needs to happen at the same time as working out the location and the volunteers. You need months of lead time!  It's not that you're working that whole time, it's that you're allowing time and repeated contacts to find your teacher(s), attendees, and get your work done.

5.  Line up classes - if your club has nothing in the treasury, you can probably divide up demo duty among members, but if you've got a few bucks, seriously consider a professional teacher.

With a little bit of money in the hopper, perhaps from the last seminar, you can look at engaging someone fascinating, someone your club doesn't see all the time.  Brainstorm about which teachers you might like to have, contact them and see what they charge.  Expect to pay for travel; a teacher can't do a small seminar and pay for airfare from merchandise sales, typically.  A distant teacher will cost more than a nearby one.

Talk to knitters who have attended various teachers' seminars, and collect opinions about the different teachers and the kind of work they do.

6.  Engage your teacher.  A machine knitting teacher likes to get specific information, for instance, the hours they'll work, what the venue is like, how many people, and my favorite, most requested demonstrations.  I love to know, as a demonstrator, what mix of beginners, intermediates, and experts are in the room.  Do I want to go over basics or spend time on unusual techniques?  Is this group into fashion, home decor, charity knitting, or DAK?

7.  Go into party-planning mode.  You need to deal with food, drinks, seating, video, sound, parking, etc.  You are essentially giving an all-day party for knitters.   Focus on FUN, and split up the work!

8.  Add sweeteners for an extra-fun day.  Here are examples of sweeteners I've seen done very effectively at seminars:
  • Handouts - ask your teacher for them, and print them.  Most knitters expect printed materials. 
  • Raffles - could be money, yarn, equipment
  • Mystery gifts
  • Door prizes
  • Games & goofy contests
  • Swap table, where knitters can sell their extras
  • Merchandise for sale
  • Hands-on activities (in the photo, Sarah and Sylvia, working with a drop spindle)
  • Book swaps or free book tables
  • Swap bulletin boards
  • Live and silent auctions
  • Snacky breaks (my two favorites so far - popsicles on a hot day and homemade cookies)
  • Fashion shows
  • Dinner outings at the end of the day, for those who wish
Your seminar time together is limited, so you can't do too many things.  Tailor these goodies to your particular group, and schedule them into break times and lunch times.  Early afternoon is a great time to do something unusual.  You need to get people out of the chairs if you can, and avoid the after-lunch doziness.

9.  Promote, promote, promote!  Make sure your advertising has enough contact, price and calendar information so knitters can work out quickly whether they can attend. Use lots of free or cheap advertising vehicles:
  • Web forums like Ravelry, Facebook and Yahoo Groups
  • Free community ads in the newspaper
  • Public service announcements on local radio
  • Mailing lists, including email lists
  • Magazines and bloggers, if they'll help
  • Your teacher, who may have a website or business
  • Posters in local businesses, especially related ones
  • Craigslist
10.  Execute with a joyful spirit!  On the day of the seminar, keep in mind these realities:
  • Get your team there early to set up and test the equipment - it's nice if you can set up the day before, but that's usually not possible.
  • Have a backup plan if a knitting machine doesn't work, there's a glitch in setup that takes extra time, or some other thing goes wrong.  I always put a few bonus materials in the back of my handouts, and I can skip to them if a machine doesn't work.  You can always entertain the crowd if they have to wait a few minutes by doing one of your sweetener activities.
  • Start the day with coffee, tea, and breakfasty snacks, if folks drove a while.
  • Have someone willing to stand up and direct everyone - get folks to sit and quiet down, do a little fun sweetener activity, and introduce the teacher.  This person needs to be loud and assertive, but only if necessary.  You need to start on time, get back from breaks on time, and it's just occasionally necessary to ask people to quiet down or pay attention.  Have that person appointed before you begin the day.
  • Divide up the cleanup chores, and leave the space in great shape. 
Small things usually go wrong, but a terrific attitude makes all the difference.  Simply be adaptable and keep your sense of humor and awareness that being able to put on a seminar is a big blessing.

BTW, the last photo is me, at my chubbiest, at the Knit Natters seminar two years ago!  We're starting to talk about a seminar for next year. 


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