Tuesday, 6 September 2016

How to Stuff Three Hundred Goody Bags

Subtitled: Please feel free to learn from our mistakes! A light-hearted look at just one aspect of conference preparation.

So, my weekend was a rather frantic one, helping with the running of the Historical Novel Society 2016 Conference. It seemed to go very well, with lots of positive feedback (check out the Twitter comments for #HNSOxford16!)  and much general enjoyment. However, there were a few fraught hours before we opened for registration on Friday evening, not least when we were attempting to get 300 goody bags stuffed as quickly as possible.

In case it is of any help to anyone, here are some lessons that we learned, some more quickly than others.

1. It is a really good idea to know exactly how many you have of each item. 
We guesstimated how many books there were, started off by putting four books in each bag, and ultimately had a couple of our fabulous volunteer helpers retrieving two or three from the early bags so that we had *any* books for the later ones. Our guesstimate of the pens, however, was seriously under, so there were quite a few left over by the end. Useful for the FoH team, though.

2. Spread out. Really, really, s p r e a d  o u t  the piles you will be selecting your goodies from. 
We didn't. We tried to fit everything onto one long row of tables, despite the fact there were plenty of other tables around. The piles fell over. People stood by the several piles trying to select one of each for the bag they were filling but preventing anyone else from accessing them. Gradually we moved blocks of postcards, or half the bookmarks, onto a different table, but those filling the bags didn't always remember to take the newly-circuitous route so some bags missed out on some cards/flyers/bookmarks. In retrospect, we should have used at least twice as many tables to set out the selections from. At least.

3. Try to figure out a system before you start.
We had a system, to be fair. But then we introduced a new system. Then we refined it slightly. More than once. And not everyone heard every refinement, because it was, you know, a friendly volunteer activity and there was chatting. So some changes were taken on board more (ahem!) rigorously than others. 

4. Not everyone needs to be on bag-filling duty.
We all started by filling bags, but it quickly become apparent that this was impractical. There just wasn't room. So a few people moved onto assembling subsets of goodies for handing on to those with the bags. This was particularly useful for bookmarks - which frequently stuck together - and postcards.

5. Work out beforehand where you will be storing the filled goody bags.
We decided a nice long wall was a good collection point, but after filling about half of our bags, thought maybe we shouldn't block access to a fire extinguisher. At which point, a whole load of bags needed to be moved. At least it was a good opportunity to check some of the bags for more books for redistribution! 

It should be noted we did get all our goody bags filled and stored, and by the end of the conference - in fact, by Sunday morning - they had all gone. So something went right... ;-)

Big thanks to all those involved in both the stuffing of the bags and the provision of both the bags themselves and their contents, plus a huge congratulations to the organisers of the conference. The bar appears to have been raised!