Thursday, October 15, 2015

11 ways to be an effective Couchsurfing event organizer

Learn from my triumphs and mistakes as a seasoned Couchsurfing event organizer in Santa Monica, California. The tips below will help empower you to organize your own successful Couchsurfing events.

  1. Be proactive – Visit your chosen venue one week before your event (preferably the same day/time as your event) to see if the location is appropriate for your group. Introduce yourself to the manager to discuss your needs/expectations. Even if it’s a place you’ve visited many times, contact the venue to confirm that it’ll be open and can accommodate your group. Reserve a space if possible.
  2. Be specific – Include helpful information on your event page such as: how to access your event with public transportation, an address/map/contact information for the venue, a description of the meeting area, any age restrictions, dress code regulations, and parking information. 
  3. Be inclusive – A Couchsurfing event should be open to all members regardless of race, creed, color, age, sexual orientation, etc. I’ve heard stories of some events that attempt to “gender balance”, the purposeful exclusion of people based on their sex. Couchsurfing isn’t a speed dating website, so if you’re worried about your event being a “sausage party”, sign up for instead.  
  4. Be transparent – Manage expectations of event attendees by disclosing their obligations, financial or otherwise, for the event. Withholding pertinent information from your attendees is a deceitful practice that will only harm your reputation amongst CSers.
  5. Be promotional – You’ve chosen your event space and created a Couchsurfing event page, but now you need to let the CS community know about it. Create a post in the “Find Discussions” section of the CS site with a short description of your event and a link to the event page. Search the discussion board for travelers who’ve posted about being in your town and are looking for something to do. Find profiles of active CS hosts/members in your city and invite them and their surfers. Post an event link in your area’s CS page on Facebook.
  6. Be punctual – Arrive 15 minutes before the listed start time of your event. If you don’t have a space reserved, ask an employee if there’s an area your group can commandeer. Let the employee know you’ll have folks looking for the group when they arrive; ask if it’s possible to have people directed to your area.
  7. Be welcoming – Greet each attendee with a smile and a handshake, or even a hug. First impressions count. It’s easy to talk and mingle with the people you already know, but remember that some people at your event may not know anyone or even the native language. Introduce new attendees to the ones you might already know.
  8. Be vigilant – Keep an eye open for wandering people who appear lost – they’re most likely event attendees looking for the group. Watch for people who you feel are making others uncomfortable and for attendees in distress; you’re the event leader, so don’t be afraid to interrupt a conversation to ask if everything is ok.
  9. Be available – Monitor the comments section of your event page so you can respond to any questions from attendees or prospective attendees. On the night of your event, regularly check your phone for messages, emails, and calls from event attendees who might be trying to locate your group. 
  10. Be patient – This has been the toughest part for me, but try to remember that many attendees aren’t familiar with your city’s geography, culture, customs, and language; this means that you’ll be inevitably asked many of the same questions and sent many of the same messages. People will complain no matter what (it’s human nature), but over time you’ll develop thicker skin. And the bonds and connections you develop with fellow CSers will make it all worthwhile.  
  11. Be persistent – Don’t get discouraged if your event doesn’t happen as you’d envisioned. There are many factors involved with organizing an event, most of which are completely out of your control. But ruminate on the things within your control and ask yourself how you’d do it differently next time. A 25-50% attendance rate from the RSVP list is the norm – anything above 50% percent is exceptional, but anything below 25% and you’ll want to revisit your planning process.
If you’ve read this far, congratulations! Please feel free to leave your own CS organizing advice and experiences below in the comments section.