Over the last 7 years I have organised Victorian balls and several smaller events. What has started as a whim ( I wanted my Victorian party and yet there weren’t any around at the time), has grown into a regular event that sells out months in advance. People from all over the world participate, many return year after year, many join in other events too.
It has become a very successful event – but the road there was not easy and it was not all plain sailing! And since over the last few moths I have been repeatedly asked for an advice on ball and event organisation, I have finally had a moment to put some observations in writing.
The notes below simply reflect what I have learnt over the last few days, both as an organiser and a participant of similar events.
If you are planning to organise your first ball I hope they will be useful, and you can learn on our mistakes 🙂
The Planning Stage.
Make sure the venue is big enough, affortable – and attractive too. Remember that when people nowadays say the dance floor holds 300 people, they have modern type of dancing in mind. What works for 300 folks shuffling around in modern dresses will not work for the same number of people waltzing and galloping around in crinolines and panniers… Our main venue, The Assembly Rooms in Bath can hold good 250 for a modern wedding dance. But 130-140 is maximum with ladies wearing bustle dresses, and about 100 with crinoline skirts…
Many venues offer in house catering, in some places you need to contract them separately. Good quality caterers will be able to provide delicious food and cater for food allergies etc. – if they don’t, you’d better find though who do….
Some events go for a full sit down meal – some offer a buffet. Sit down meal is nice, but much more expensive – and people after a big meal tend to lose interest in dancing….
A light buffet, serving a variety of small items ( best are non drippy stuff that doesnt require cutlery) will provide sufficient nourishment without weighting the dancers down too much…
3. Make sure there is a bar with a wide array of drinks….. Not only alcoholic. 🙂 A water dispenser is a must – dancing makes people thirsty…
Do your homework. Decide who your prospective participants are – from your town, country or international? Then with that in mind check for any other popular events happening around. You don’t want to set your event at the same time as another, local or popular international event. If there is a huge event nearby, attracting people from all over the country/continent, you might be able to use it though – set up your event the week before or after, so people who travelled a long way can stay locally, have a week holiday and enjoy two events in one trip.
Think of the season and whether your venue is suitable for it too!
Spend time looking for the right calibre of staff – musicians, photographers, dance masters etc. Quality staff will be the making of the event, whereas unprofessional behaviour and low quality will cost you – to the extend that you won’t want to run the event again. Profesionals might be more expensive – but they are worth every penny!
Let us be honest – don’t expect to earn much the first year. Or the second…. we just about broke even on our first event, The Spectacular Spectacular ball. After our first Victorian ball, I had £20 income – quite unexpectedly. Be prepared for that- just treat the first few years as marketing exercises – and be prepared to cough up money yourself if needs be.
Plan every expense – venue, food, security, insurance, musicians, dance master, accommodation, transport, printing and advertising costs – there is always more than you expect.
Important: If your tickets sales are not going well, you can either cover the deficit with your own money – or cancel the event and refund the tickets. Do not change the event location, food or staff trying to get a better deal. This is not only unethical and often illegal (Trading Act violation- you have been selling tickets advertising a specific set of condotions. It is like buying tickets to go and see, let us say, Sia or Guns’n’Roses and then finding out the organiser hired a local folk band instead. Maybe not bad, but not what you paid for…) Don’t assume that people will attend for one paticular reason ( there will be dancing!) – many people go to balls to socialise, take photos, enjoy food and suitable location.
If you need to change anything, and sometimes you have to, crap happens, make sure that the change will be viewed as fair exchange. A few years back our dance master ended up in hospital a couple of days before the ball – it could have been bad, but he managed to find the replacement caller even before contacting me. (See what I mean about professional staff?) so in the end it was all ok 🙂
You will also have to offer the choice of full refund to the folks who already booked the tickets…
Ticket prices have to be reasonable – too high, and although that might promise some profit for all your work, not many tickets will sell ( especially in the first few years), so you still end up out of pocket and with a poorly attended event. Yes, if the event becomes succesful, you will be able to actually pay yourself a fee – after all there is a lot of work involved! But even then I suggest you keep the price realistic and if the tickets are dear, make sure your guests get a lot for their money!
7. Dress code.
A real minefield…. but in the end, it is your party, you decide. It is advisable to make the first two or three events less strict, but within reason. Our first one was a mix of Victorian, fantasy, steampunk – and it simply didn’t work. Next one was a generic Victorian – and that worked much better. Over the years our dress code has become much stricter, but if your event works, people will put an effort into making sure they comply with the code.
Yes, you will always get a few who don’t – but often it is the case of just not being aware of the generic level. Often folks see that their ‘Victorian’ fancy dress bought on ebay differs a lot from what other people are wearing – and next year they know better and return properly attired. Personally, one of the biggest delights for me that has come from organising the ball and getting a bit stricter every year, is seeing people improving year by year – becoming more knowledgeable, their sewing skills are getting better and better too. A real joy to behold.
Under no circumstances criticise people’s attire though, no matter what they wear. And do not allow others bitching about too! If needs be, have a quiet word after the ball, if they want to come back, but do not spoil their enjoyment at the event.
The easiest way to avoid situation like that is simple to be open about the dress code in your description. And providing a lot of resources, links to shops, providers, patterns etc helps too!
So you have all those things planned, venue booked, deposits paid, contracts signed. Time to do some martketing work – and sell tickets!
Point of sale.
Make sure the event information is clear, and it is easy to find. And easy to purchase the tickets too!
It is best to invest in a basic website with a shop – not only you have all the infomration, sales, ticketing etc in one place, but also people are much more willing to buy tickets from websites rather than arrange private bank or Paypal transfers.
Make the process as simple as possible – the fewer clicks needed to complete the transaction the better!
If your audience is local – no need to use other languages, the website is ok with your native language! However, if you are hoping to attract international crowd, English is a must. Do add translation in your own language underneath the English text, if you want 🙂 the important thing is, people get discouraged if they go to a page/website and don’t see a language they understand at a first glance…
Use the Early bird pricing system – a discount, even slight, is always effective!
State terms and conditions clearly, both on the information part and on the ticket receipts.
Here our lives are made easier by social media. Set up a page and an event on facebook, use twitter, blogs, Instagram etc to advertise and spread the word.
Same notes about the clarity and language apply. Links should be clearly visible – you will still get folks asking about basic info or how to buy despite all that, but at least you are limiting their number – and saving yourself time.
Sponsor posts if needs be, share engaging and pertinnent content, keep people updated and engaged. For the first event you may not have photos of foks dancing at your location, but take and share photos of the place – that is a good start.
If you can, suggest fringe activities. You can offer additional, free activities the day before or the day after. We usually have a breakfast at the Pump Rooms the next day, followed by some boating, picnics or carriage drives. It is just a bit extra to organise – but keep it simple and ask people to book their own tables, boats etc – that will make a massive difference and will mean you don’t have to be finantially responsible if someone doesn’t turn up.
In time, people would often end up having their own private parties, luncheons, etc, and it all benefits the event – and the participants!
A few examples…
At the event.
The time has come! The day of the ball! Alas, for you it means quite a lot of stress, and some more work.
Meetings with the venue staff and managing the day, meeting with caterers, ensuring all the meal options are up to date etc, answering emails from panicked folks who forgot the address, tickets, bustle cage or are lost in the town….
You need to be available and to deal with all those emergency swiftly.
At the ball, do enjoy yourself but keep an eye on the event too – notify security if you have some guests who overindulged at the bar and are behaving loudly, provide emergency sewing kits ( always needed), adjust dance programme a tad if you see that everybody is flagging and there is a gallop next, ask the veue staff to open/close windows, dim lights, provide water as needed, liase with the catering team about any problems, meal times etc.
In time, if your team is performing well, you will realise that you actually can dance more and fuss about less – you get more efficient in planning ahead and you will be able to spot any problems before they actualy develop 🙂 This year, our 7th event was actually the first I danced the majority of dances instead of the usual 2-5 …
Make sure you allow enough time for people to leave too… This is a difficult part, as folks enjoyed themselves, want to stay and chat – but the venue and all the staff are hired only till the advertised time. We did overrun once, as folks were chatty, posed for photos etc. As a result I had to cover a hefty bill of several people working overtime….
When all the guests are gone, you still need to make sure yur team is packing up and help them if needed. Organise transport to hotels if required, debrief the event manager, check if there is no lost property etc around.
And then you can go home and collapse.
After our ball ( 2 day event basically), I sleep for abour a day and a half, with short lucid moments when i try not to fall asleep…. I tend to book 2 days off after now, so that I can recover.
Well, this is more or less what I have learnt over the years. No doubt there is a lot more stuff I will learn in the future! I hope it will provide a bit of a insight and a guidance if you are planning your own event. It is a lot of work – but worth it!
Oh, and our next Victorian ball is on May 2nd – you can get more information and tickets here!