How to not run a sh*t event

Anisah Osman Britton MBE
7 min readMay 17, 2018

Dear people planning events,

Events are important. They bring the community together, they are opportunities to learn, teach, share, and meet new people. They are opportunities for opinions, for humour, for sadness, for anger. They are opportunities for self promotion. They are a place to find your tribe. Solo founders, solo marketers, solo anything, attend events for the shared experience.

I’ve always believed that events play a huge role in the culture of industries. For me, that would be the culture of the tech scene. Sometimes these events are the threshold into the industry for someone, or the scouting of a possible employer/employee/acquisition/client/partner.

Unfortunately, sometimes events get it all wrong. They can make you feel like you don’t belong. They can be intimidating. Like, bloody hell, sometimes you may not even actually, physically, be able to get in the door.

I really hope someone gets this “Sisters” reference- you know, solo dancing, looking in, wanting to be one of the crowd. No? OK.

So this is my personal opinion guide to running good events. Steal this, share it around, and in return, invite me to your well organised event :)

Bonus: Events cost money, we should look at where that money is going and whether it can make a difference. Usually, my reason for choosing a brand is a mixture of its environmental impact/sustainability, its impact work, or innovation. I know it takes time to research where to shop, so I’ve added some brands in each section.

Drink

If you are providing alcohol, make sure there is at least one non alcoholic alternative AND water.

Why?

There are tonnes of reasons people don’t drink. Religion, lifestyle, health, recovering from addiction, and supporting a partner who doesn’t drink, are just some of the reasons.

Drinks are an important part of socialising. It gives you a reason to start a conversation; something to hold and do when you’re nervous or standing around alone- which beats being antisocial and texting on your phone out of embarrassment; something to quench your thirst with after you’ve run there because you’re obviously late.

If I go to an event and there’s only alcohol (sometimes not even water that is visibly available), I know that event doesn’t want me.

Some suggestions:

Karma Cola — Fairtrade Cola alternative, does good for the world, has less sugar, and the names of their drinks are fun (Gingerella, anyone?)

Special GingerFella in honour of Red Head Day and the Royal Wedding.

Seedlip- Make those rooftop summer mocktails special with this non alcoholic spirit that uses natural ingredients and a centuries old process.

Sparkling water- use a “for good” brand like One water. Try to avoid plastic bottles.

Food

OK, I get it. Sometimes your budget only covers pizza. If that’s the case, provide a vegetarian and vegan pizza option too.

But at 23 Code Street, we’ve tried to look for other stuff that represents our brand better. We’ve found Indian places that cater wonderful, healthy, Indian food for our events. Our last event for 30 people cost us £60. Pizza isn’t much cheaper. We’ve done salads and dips before too (they were sooo good- thanks Mama!).

Food at a 23 Code Street event

So:

  • Make sure there is a vegetarian/vegan option.
  • Ask attendees if they have any dietary requirements and, if it’s possible, try and accommodate.
  • If people are standing or sitting should also change the choice of food you provide.

I love buffets at events that have options- salads, fruit, sandwiches, cakes, rice, sushi, pastries, popcorn. All of this can be done for varying budgets. Don’t go for pizza just because it’s easy. The more thought out, the better opinion people will have of the event and the more likely it is that they’ll come to something else, or become your customer if that’s the plan. Think about the impact good food has on you!

Why?

The importance of food at events is overlooked. Food is one of the world’s shared experiences- we all eat. It’s a time where you can’t use your phone and you can chat with the people next to you in line. It gives you focused time to discuss ideas.

Food has the ability to impact mood and energy.

Some suggestions on alternative food/snacks:

Big pot food like curry, salads, rice, etc.

Dips and breads (pita/naan/breadsticks)- if you can’t be bothered to make your own, Skinny Dipping are a mum and daughter brand based in Islington. All the dips are vegan with a max of 6 natural ingredients.

Fruit- to avoid a tonne of plastic, why not consider a local market trip? Or a fruit box like OddBox that fight food waste by using wonky fruit, and donating 10% of their surplus produce to local charity projects.

Popcorn- I love Propercorn. Natural, healthy, lighter.

Baked goods/pastries- Day Old Eats. They’re amazing. In their words “our baked goods are surplus — we collect them from artisan bakeries the previous day, preventing them from going to waste. Our profits become much-needed cash donations to charities addressing child hunger”.

Cake (or breakfast cake!) — can I suggest the wonderful people at Luminary Bakery? If you’ve been to Kahaila on Brick Lane you’ve already tried their cakes. They invest in and train women from disadvantaged backgrounds.

I mean look at these cakes. Mate. I had such a sugar rush.

The space

  • Is the space accessible? Does it have a ramp, a lift, etc. so that wheelchairs and those with mobility impairments can enter? If not, can you host it elsewhere? If not, make it super clear on the event sign up page, on confirmation emails, on reminder emails, that the space isn’t accessible to avoid unnecessary embarrassment, anger, and upset.
  • Seating. Are there places for people to sit down? If not, again, make this clear.
  • Create a quiet room, if possible. A place someone can go and pray and a place someone can go to if the event is too loud, or the event is too much for them.
  • Seperate spaces for where the talks are happening and where people are socialing. It’s awful when you’re genuinely interested in a speaker but people at the coffee bar are chatting away and you can’t hear a thing. Or the inverse- you want to chat.

Side note: With Ramadan starting this week, having prayer areas and something people can break their fast with (dates, water, bananas, pastry) will go a long way in making people feel welcome after a long day of fasting.

The event itself

Hearing- If you are in a venue where this is possible, a sign language interpreter or live captioning is useful. There is some interesting software for live captioning like https://live-caption.soft112.com/.

Seeing- Presentations have a tendency to be hard to read. Make sure words are large. Make sure colours are easy to read. Here is an interesting resource to check your slides.

NB: Make sure if you’re presenting that you read whatever is on your slide. Do not presume everyone in the room can see it/read it.

Questions- Don’t pick on people to ask questions. You don’t know them. I once saw a terrible moment occur when a presenter asked someone a question and he wasn’t able to speak. It took the presenter two jokes until, to his horror, he worked it out. Don’t do it. There are so many reasons not to pick people out- anxiety, speech impairments, introversion…You don’t know why they are there. Instead, ask an audience to volunteer information.

Speakers- You can do better than an all male, all white line up.

Unless it’s this. Then I have no complaints. Kidding…

Why?

There’s a plethora of diverse talent and expertise. Not making the effort to reach out means that you are denying your audience rich expertise, opinions, and views. And you’re preventing the potential speakers visibility and opportunity. Do not undervalue that which you do not know.

Make the effort to diversify how you find people. Often, people don’t get asked to speak because they’re not in the organisers’ networks. But, that’s not good enough. Nor is it an excuse. You should be encouraging and supporting first time speakers.

Also, if you’re going to ask a woman, transgender, non binary person, or a person of colour to speak, please think about what you are asking them to speak about. If it’s always gender/colour issues, we have a problem. The people you are asking are also highly skilled in their areas of expertise. Don’t always make the minority the spokesperson for minorities. Yes, I speak a lot on diversity and inclusivity, and women in technology, but that’s because that happens to be my job and company I run!

Side note: Please pay speakers where possible. It’s important that we respect people’s experience and time.

OK so here are some great lists of speakers- you now don’t have an excuse. I’m sure there are more, but these are the ones that have caught my attention:

Women who Keynote- broken down via region, expertise, company role.

Techworld’s potential speakers list- filter by job role and industry.

Great Charity Speakers — filtered mainly by race

Recap

Think about:

Drink

Food

Venue

Presentations

Speakers

Final Thoughts

Events are hard. I know I’m a total weirdo who loves running them, but I know that experience isn’t the same for everyone. However, it’s easy to make a few changes to create a great event that’s inclusive, fun and that has people talking about you, in a good way. It’s crazy how small changes make all the difference.

I’d love to hear what I’ve missed and what you’d add.

You can also find me on twitter AnisahOB or on email anisah@23codestreet.com.

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Anisah Osman Britton MBE

Figuring out ✨ what's next ✨ after a decade of love and heartbreak in tech