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Increasing attendence at conferences


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How do we increase attendance to the blacksmithing conferences?

Usually you can count on the same hard core blacksmiths at a conference, but with big names doing demos and the hard work of the organizers, how is the best way to increase attendance?

Saturday all day:
Get up 4 am, attend the conference, leave at say 5 pm and arrive home 9 pm. 8 hours drive time and 3 meals.

Saturday all day, Sunday am to afternoon:
Get up 4 am, attend the conference, overnight, leave at say 4 pm and arrive home 8-9 pm Sumday. 8 hours drive time and 6 meals and one motel bill.

Friday Saturday Sunday:
Get up 4 am, attend the conference, 2 overnights, leave at say 4 pm and arrive home 8-9 pm Sunday. 8 hours drive time, and 8 meals and 2 motel bills.

FSS but beyond 4 hrs drive time requires two vacation days (Thursday and Monday) 10 meals and 4 motel bills.

These are not hidden costs, but costs in addition to the cost of the conference.


What is the solution to increasing attendance?

Maybe the demonstrater hold one day conferences in a series of localized and adjecent cities? Monday move 50-100 miles then set up for Tuesday, move 50-100 miles then set up for Wednesday etc etc.

Please give us your input. What would it take to get you interested in attending a conference or meeting?

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Allow camping on site. Folks tend to let their guard down after supper. We've had some of the most memorable demo's doing informal projects late at night. This also saves on motel bills.
Have a workshop so folks can make a project they might not be able to do by themselves. Is there a machine shop, power hammer, or extra strikers on site?
Take a big pinch of the gate fee, and buy large chunks of red meat, and a bag of corn chips.
Have a beginner station so folks who've never forged before can get their hands dirty.
It's a long drive for us to get to meetings. If my wife and son go, they use the opportunity to go on day trips to local fun spots while I'm forging.

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Personally, I think there are enough big conferences. There are so many that I have to be selective about attending them. Yet each one of these started as a quite modest gathering. The most durable conferences grew steadily around an ever-growing group. Trying to get big almost defeats the purpose and seems more forced and contrived than a genuine gathering of blacksmiths.

I prefer one or two larger conferences a year so I can get exposure to distant blacksmiths and their ideas. And then I like relaxed local gatherings without much hype or fanfare for socializing and sharing skills for the rest of the time.

For a successful conference, ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS provide coffee and doughnuts. Then we shall come.

And don't forget the coffee and doughnuts.

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The Central Minnesota Blacksmiths have been having very good turnouts in my opinion compared to others I've talked to: We usually have at least 20-25 plus people show up every month at our hammer-ins. The main thing is that there should always be a live demo with a fire in the forge and metal being pounded to demonstrate some form of process or making of something, as that's what people come for. We have a very good group and fortunately have good demonstrations. Watching is always better than reading or telling someone how to do something - mainly for the ones that have never seen or done it before. Even if is is something simple - people expect to "see" something being done. - Jk -Member CMB

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Advertise locally outside the usual group newsletter. What we do is interesting enough to merit asking for an article in the newspaper BEFORE the Conference or Hammer-in. There are plenty of local people that would love to learn blacksmithing, but have no idea where to look, and might not realize something so cool could be happening so close to them. Being close cuts the associative costs significantly. Hammer-ins and conferences are a great way to build group membership, which builds future conference membership.

Just my 2 cents worth. :)


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Our group routinely gets compliments from visitors about how well we play together, how enjoyable the meetings are and how much they learn from them. I attribute our success primarily to two things... the people who make up the membership are great to be with, and we keep everything very simple and low key. That's it.

Trying to grow is a mistake. Growth just happens by gently tending to the health as it is. Numbers don't mean a thing. People will flock to see something new and different, but won't stay. What you want in an organization is a culture that invites everyone to feel comfortable.

Some basic rules:

1) ALWAYS provide coffee and doughnuts.
2) ALWAYS have the meeting... and ALWAYS meet at the same place and time. This is VERY important and the excuses for not doing it are all wrong. It is really almost as important as rule #1.
3) Play nice.
4) Learn blacksmithing.

Most of our new arrivals come because they have seen members demonstrate in public and like what they saw. So as a group, take turns participating in area fairs and events. Make up business cards with guild information to pass out. When friends do demos together it is always fun, and people pick up on that and want a part of it. If you invite them to attend meetings and share your fun, that's all there is to it.

Provide coffee and doughnuts.

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My 2 cents would be advertising. Having the meeting/hammer-in at the same time every time is good for those who know when it is, but then you run into the problem of having the same people there. To get new people into it, you need to remember the best advertising tool there is, word of mouth. If you are at a demo and there are some new voluteers, or somebody comes by that is intersted, tell them about the upcoming meeting. It doesn't cost you anything and the odds are, tell enough people about it and some will come out of intrest.

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Ah.... As Mike-hr put it... Midnight Madness is the BEST!!!. Mike, show them a picture of the dragon that you made durring midnight madness last summer... Camping on the grounds is indeed a great thing. I felt a little sorry at the last hammer in for all the folks that were staying in hotels in town. Heck, they were missing out on all the fun. Folks have given some good points already. Though I don't think my waistline really needs any more dooughnut Ed. One other thing along the same vien as advertising and word of mouth. I've only recently begun to discover that there's a lot of other "groups" of folks out there that are into doing traditional stuff. So what if you did some research and contacted your local mountain man / rondevous club, and the "hit and miss engine club", and the threshing bee club, and the old tractor dudes, and oh heck I dunno but I got a feelin the list goes on. The point being a lot of these folks might need some blacksmithing done once in a while besides the possibility that they might be real interested in bs'ing in and of it's own. How cool woud it be to hook a big 'ol hit and miss up to the flat belt running a power hammer and a hammer-in. I'd be in line for that one for sure. Anyway there's my 30 cents.

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For meetings "same bat time, same bat place"! Makes it easier to tell folks you meet who are interested rather than "I don't know exactly when and where the next one is I'll have to check the news letter when it comes out" (and at least one org I belonged to the newsletter would sometimes get to my place *after* the meeting date...)

SOFA has open forging before/after the meetings---encourages new people who don't have a shop yet to attend and try out things.

SWABA has a potluck lunch after the meetings to encourage folks to stay around and talk awhile---important in a state where the drive time can be substantial to get to a meeting!

Try to get people to carpool, saves gas and encourtages regular attendence, the MOB used to make a day of it, stopping at a big fleamarket along the way to the SOFA meetings

Be open and friendly---it's easy to get into an "old boys club" mentality; but some of the "weirdo's" with weird ideas, clothes, piercings are actually nice talented folk and they *WILL* be the next generation of smiths! You can "bring them into the fold" or exclude them and gradually fade away. Look at the average age of your group---where are the "young turks" to keep you on your toes?

Community Outreach: do you do demos at county and state fairs? Do the local librarians know where to guide people who "want to make swords"? Do the local historical re-enactment groups know about your organization?

Web Presence---more a factor for the young people but it is how many people start looking for something these days.


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