Almost everyone has been to at least one event that could be accurately described as not very organized. On the surface, that lack of organization seems like a minor inconvenience. Maybe the shows start an hour late each night, which cuts into social dance time. Maybe workshops aren’t where they’re supposed to be. But, you deal with it. After all, it’s still totally possible to have a good time at a less organized event.

But, there are hidden side effects and impacts that poor organization can have – for the individuals, the event, and the wider community.

Poor Organization vs Small Mishaps

There is a difference between minor blips and poor organization. For example, even the best events may run into unforseeable issues that cause unfortunate delays or messy rescheduling. Way back, we once had our roof spring a leak just before the dancefloor was to be installed – which caused an epic amount of reshuffling. On a smaller scale, we’ve had equipment malfunction, internet go down, last-minute room changes, and missing personnel that threw wrenches into our plans.

But, some events move beyond some minor or unforseeable blips. This can include an unrealistic schedule (which can lead to many things, including chronically running behind); poor artist, volunteer, and staff management; a lack of logistics and contingency planning; or a communications void. It can also include events that let artists and guests dictate the event schedule, with nonsensical workshops and haphazardly-planned activities at random hours.

Types of Poor Organization

Poor organization affects everyone involved. It changes the experience of artists, staff, attendees, and even the organizers. It can sour relationships with venues and vendors. It can bring down the reputation of an event, and even change the community climate towards events. Many times, these effects snowball into a generally bad or ‘meh’ experience. It’s not that some parts weren’t fun – but was it really worth the amount of time and energy to attend that event?

Here are some common culprits.

Poor Scheduling

A poorly-done schedule can be caused by many things, including:

  • Not leaving enough time for planned activities, resulting in chronic lateness
  • Not thinking about the experience flow, including when people (and artists) will rest
  • Not planning out the topics of workshops and overlapping activities in a way that makes sense for attendees (for example, 3 beginner classes at one time, and the next hour, all advanced classes)
  • Including activities just because you didn’t want to say “no” to someone – even when that experience doesn’t match your event’s atmosphere or vision
  • Marathon-length shows that drop the energy (shows are best with quality over quantity!)

Poor scheduling can lead to artist and attendee burnout, a chronically late schedule (which can also lead to burnout), and a schedule where some people struggle to find topics or activities that interest them. In contrast, a well-designed schedule can leave attendees feeling pleasantly tired, but always with the option to do something interesting. For artists, it will lead to appropriate pacing, which puts them in a better position to give a positive guest experience.

Poor Communications

This is when people just don’t know what’s going on. It can include:

  • Late, inaccurate, or non-existent schedules
  • Hard-to-find but necessary information
  • Updates that are too late or too narrowly shared to reach the necessary attendees

The effects this can have vary. Depending on the severity, it can lead to people feeling ignored, confused, or just downright angry. It can cause people to miss workshops and competitions, spend precious time walking around in search of the activity they want, or even just cause people to give up and do nothing. A common culprit of poor communications is poor logistical planning or decisions that are made too late for adequate communications to occur.

A Lack of Logistics and Contingency Planning

Logistics and contingency planning have a massive impact on the success and flow of an event. this is where organizers should be heading off any forseeable issues in everything, including registration processes, volunteer training, airport pickups, food plans, and emergency first-aid protocol. This is also where you have to decide things like consent policies, policies for removing individuals who break the rules, if there’s anyone who is not permitted to attend your event, and what you will do if they show up.

Planning for everything that you think could go wrong is what sets the stage for successfully handling all the things  you never thought could go wrong (but will). However, some organizers don’t think about these things in advance. Many times, it’s because it is exhausting and difficult to plan – and it may turn out just fine, so the organizer decides not to worry. Like, what’s the chance someone will break a toe?

(Answer: high enough that you should plan for it anyway).

When there is a lack of planning, events can (and sometimes do) fall apart spectacularly. From missed flights, rearranged schedules, a lack of event space, no floors… there’s a huge range of outcomes. And, you shouldn’t expect your attendees to be eternally forgiving. Very often, they don’t know why something is going wrong – they just know that the event they paid to attend isn’t delivering on their promised experience.

Artist, Staff, and Volunteer Mismanagement

Another poor organization pitfall is personnel mismanagement. This can be everything from setting clear expectations, getting appropriate flights, and providing a positive staff experience. This is especially prevalent with non-headline artists and staff, who often tend to get shunted pretty badly by organizers (crammed into overstuffed rooms; little or no pay; and treated like a “second tier” contributor). However, even headline artists sometimes get treated in some very strange ways.

The other part of this is not making it clear what is expected in terms of behaviour, workshops, and other obligations. A lack of clarity and organization can cause artists to feel more “relaxed” towards their obligations (“if everything is going to shit anyway, why should I try to save the event?”)

When staff are mistreated or not given appropriate guidance, it impacts how they interact with the attendees. It can lead to everything from heavy partying/drinking as a form of decompression, to apathy, a disregard for the schedule, or even reclusiveness. I’ve seen artists show up late for judging and/or shows because the event was so behind schedule that they assumed it wouldn’t run on time, and they didn’t want to be standing there for an hour waiting for their duties to begin. I’ve also seen normally professional artists exhibit some very unprofessional behaviour when pissed off at an event.

(Pro tip, artists: stay professional. Just like the attendees don’t realize why an event is going badly, they also won’t realize that it’s your frustration. They’ll just assume you’re not very professional 😉 )

In contrast, when an organizer takes their event seriously, treats people well, and sets clear expectations, staff tend to rise to the occasion beautifully. After all, they want to be there, they want to work the event, and they want to be part of the success that year – and in future years.

Wider Effects

“Cliquey” Community Reputations

Poor organization can lead to an altered attendee experience. Just like mediocre music can make people feel uninspired (even if they don’t know it), poor organization can cause community rifts that people don’t realize are related to organizational issues.

For example, as pointed out by a member of the dance community, limited social dance time can lead to dancers focusing on dancing with their out-of-town friends, rather than outreaching to new connections or beginner dancers. In addition, a lack of energy can lead to a bad mood or sore body, which may make people more reluctant to try out a new or less experienced partner for fear of injury or discomfort. And, that low energy combined with frustration from things not going smoothly can lead to moods that make people feel unwelcome – or even alter your mind enough to cause insecure, lonely, or less than ideal feelings.

This collectively can result in a large swath of people feeling dissatisfied with their event experience, and it often gets attributed to a “bad” atmosphere/crowd – even if it wasn’t their fault in reality. And, that type of negative experience can turn off newer or more vulnerable dancers from continuing in the community. It can also inspire some people to not continue attending events because it just “isn’t worth it” (more on that later).

“Aloof/Unprofessional” Artists

The behaviour and reputation of artists can change drastically depending on the organization of an event. This both happens community-side (there less tolerance for artist downtime or hanging with other artists in grumpy, tired, or frustrated crowds) and artist-side (burned out, tired, grumpy, frustrated, or feeling undervalued).

This results in some artists coming across as aloof, snobby, or unprofessional – even when others have had an exact opposite experience with the same person at other events that were more organized. While part of the obligation is on the artist to watch out for giving a less savoury impression, not everyone can always recover from a bad mood or exhaustion in a way that promotes community growth.

Even for me, there’s some events where I barely social dance some nights because I’m exhausted. After teaching at 11, running comps for 4 or 5 hours, scoring, and then having to be there for an artist obligation at 9, I’m not dancing past midnight. Even if I am dancing, it’s likely going to be more lacklustre than my “optimal” state.

But, at events that provide the opportunity for a nap or downtime, you’ll see me out much later and longer – with a much happier face and more engaged dancing.

(Of course, there are some artists who are not particularly engaged no matter where they go – but I’m not talking about those situations right now)

“Cheap” Communities

As a consumer, I’ve been to events where I’d happily purchase the plane ticket, hotel, and pass again – and others where you better be giving me an all-expenses paid trip if you want me to attend.

Unfortunately, not everyone has seen enough events to be able to compare good vs bad organization. So, a person who pays $200 for a pass to a poorly organized event as their first exposure may develop an opinion that events are overpriced. This isn’t being cheap; it’s just that when they attended that event, it wasn’t worth the price tag.

In short: if your event isn’t worth the ticket price from a user experience perspective, they’re possibly going to form an opinion that dance events as a whole are not worth the ticket price. This hurts all events – not just yours.

An easy place to see this is the worth placed on workshops and shows. How many people would pay separately for a standard event show? Not many; most people use this as nap time. What about the number of advanced dancers that stop paying for workshops in favour of party passes?

There’s a reason: they’ve decided the value isn’t there for them. And, as organizers, you decide how much people are going to value things in the community as a whole. So, if you throw together a half-assed workshop schedule that isn’t worth it for advanced dancers, they’re not going to value the next event – even if there are better workshops. If you put on a 3-hour amateur showcase (nothing wrong with amateur or student performances – 3h is just a long time for ANY show – especially student ones!), people are going to keep thinking shows aren’t worth the time.

(Again, there are legitimately “cheap” people out there who have the money, see the value, and still low-ball or haggle. But, this isn’t about them.)

Poor Event Reputation

Lastly, poor organization leaves a poor aftertaste in regards to your specific event. You lose a lot of return traffic – and a lot of word-of-mouth marketing – when you don’t organize well. This can cause you to lose money – or even have to shut down your event.

For example, there are some events that I’ll pay to attend even when I’m not on staff. There are others that I attend once, and then decide are not worth a return trip. This is entirely based on my experience at the event, including the level of professionalism and organization.

Organizer Excuses and Justifications

I get how hard it is to organize an event. But, organizers should also be on the lookout for a couple pitfalls that are often used as a way to excuse or justify disorganization. And, sometimes, it’s also used to extract free work beyond the scope of what was planned for staff.

“We’re a family/friends/a community!”

Well, yes, we are. But, this is a professional event. Artists are hired as professionals. Attendees pay for and expect a professional event. We all expect you to hold up your end of the bargain and behave professionally.

Working for contra deals? Fair. Working based on an agreement that had a friends and family discount? Also fair. But, expecting me as a “friend” to do 10 hours of extra work that I’m not being paid for to help out your event? That’s unprofessional – not a perk of being my friend.

Of course, sometimes some people will offer help because you’re a friend, and it’s not wrong to accept that. There are organizers who are my friends and I’ll gladly step in and help – but I also know that if I was ever down, they’d turn around and do the same for me.

The same goes for the community. It may be full of your friends, and it may be like your family… but they paid you to run an event. A professional event. You’re expected to live up to that standard.

“You know I’m a good person.”

That’s lovely – but being a good person doesn’t mean you’re a good organizer, and it doesn’t excuse poor organization. Just like a job doesn’t hire you for being “nice”, organizers shouldn’t run an event solely because they’re good people. Let’s raise the expectation here: if you’re going to organize an event, organize it. 

“It’s so hard! I’m losing money!”

Yes, it is… but the difficulty is something you voluntarily undertook. And again, newer events can negotiate in advance because they are losing money. But, if you’re on Year 5 and still struggling to pay people… maybe you need to change your model. Something isn’t working.

That doesn’t mean you have to be rolling in dough, but losing money is your problem and risk alone, just like any other business.

“I’m so stressed!”

We understand… but that’s not new to any organizer or professional. But, regardless of your stress level, your attendees and (most) of your staff should not be aware of the high degree of stress you are feeling. While it may be a side effect of disorganization, stress will still be present in well-organized events from time to time. Planning well helps reduce the amount (and degree) of stress during the event itself.

“Too much is going on in my life!”

This sucks, but is something that happens at some point to all event organizers. Planning early helps circumvent most personal issues (again, within reason). We once crashed our car on the Sunday of our event. I’ve been seriously sick either in the critical before period or during my event on three occasions. Things get behind – but you should plan enough in advance that an unexpected last-minute issue or two won’t derail all your plans.

In Conclusion

I’m so happy that we have passionate organizers in our communities. However, my dream is to see a higher level of overall professionalism among the ranks of organizers to ensure that everyone has a good experience and sees the value of an event. That includes both artist management (for example, having enough food and reasonable rooming conditions), attendee experience (delivering what is promised), and creating the impression of value at dance events.

It’s totally possible to do – so let’s hold ourselves accountable and do better.