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Making the most out of your science event 14.11.14

Alex Cloney offers some tips on how to organise informative and effective events

Organising events can be considered one of the hardest and most time-consuming aspects of communications work, but when it comes to communicating science in particular they are can be surprisingly effective tools.

An Ipsos Mori poll earlier this year found that 72% of people believe in the importance of knowing about science in their daily lives, up fifteen percentage points from 1988. In addition, an amazing 91% of respondents agreed that the next generation’s interest in science is essential for our future prosperity.

Clearly the need and hunger for getting science ‘out there’ is stronger now than ever before. Science events are key to educating,inspiring and spreading knowledge. They directly engage your target audience, and let’s be honest, are much more accessible than dry results or individual research papers.

This week, I attended a British Science Association workshop on organising science events to learn from the BSA’s fantastic track record in organising events throughout the country. The workshop outlined the methods behind their most successful events; from SciBars (informal talks in pubs) and Science Busking (pretty much exactly what you think it is) all the way through to the massive British Science Festival held once a year.

Whilst most BSA events aim to increase public awareness of science, in the world of science PR the aims of such events are usually more specific, and aim to encourage an audience to take a particular action. In the last year alone, we’ve been involved with Parliamentary events to promote the importance of STEM education with politicians, industry debates exploring the biggest challenges facing the engineering sector, bootcamps to train the cyber workforce and countless launches and industry roundtables.

There is sadly no one-size-fits-all strategy to the above, but there are some guidelines that will help you navigate the sometimes stressful and unpredictable landscape of events planning. Below are a few tips for getting the most out of your event, based on the experience of those of us at Proof as well as our friends at the BSA:

1. Always know your science – even if you are working behind the scenes, you need to have a good understanding of the scientific content of your event. Have a go at the science demos (some of them are harder than they look!) If you don’t understand it, how will your attendees? Plus, you never know who may ask!

2. Logistics, logistics, logistics – where will people park? What’s the nearest train station? Do you have enough toilets? How many flyers do you need? What are the Health and Safety requirements? Having the details locked in ahead of time will save you a lot of stress and improve the experience of attendees.

3. Have a plan B – There’s always something that goes wrong, whether it’s a speaker cancelling last minute, or the good old British weather; make sure you have a backup option when the unexpected happens. Always allow some contingency time (and budget!) to lessen the blow of these.

4. Be prepared to do anything – Events organisation is not glamorous and requires you to have the juggling capabilities of an octopus. I recently spent 30 minutes running around trying to find the coat of a high-profile speaker at an event – not my primary function on the day, but totally worth it to keep them happy and ensure the event ran smoothly.

5. Remember the ‘next steps’ – to prolong the impact of your event, it is so important to think about what you can do to create a lasting impression. This could be as simple as giving out freebies that link to your website, or providing resources that your attendees will find useful, or even inviting media to cover the event afterwards.

– Alex Cloney

If you have any comments or would like to know more about Proof’s advice for event organisers please email me at Alex.Cloney@proofcommunication.com.

See my profile on our website here.