Event Advice From The Road

Idea Playbook

Event Advice From The Road

By Paul Peavy

My last five weekends have consisted of watching my oldest daughter’s first collegiate equestrian meet, watching my youngest daughter’s swim meet, volunteering at and watching my wife compete in the Ironman Florida triathlon, and announcing at a kids’ triathlon. And, next weekend I’ll be announcing at the inaugural Tri The Rez adult triathlon.

What have I learned that I should pass on from these phenomenal events that I attended? First, be a gracious host. My daughter rides horses for Florida State University (the Seminoles), and her first meet was at the University of Florida (the Gators). Although the two teams have a rather intense rivalry, there wasn’t a feeling of rivalry or tension at the event. The Gator equestrian club was extremely cordial and welcoming—I even almost bought a Gator cookie! It was well decorated and looked delicious, and I almost bought it as an act of appreciation for the Gator’s genuine congeniality. The only thing that held me back was that I knew my grandmother would roll over in her grave if she knew I paid $7 for a cookie!

At my younger daughter’s swim meet, we learned firsthand the value of first aid care. My daughter slipped off the blocks and sprained her wrist after the judges called a miss-start. The officials were sympathetic and quickly escorted her to her coach. The meet director was equally helpful, directing us where to go for ice to put on my daughter’s wrist. The incident reminded me that it’s important to announce at every volunteer meeting exactly what to do in an emergency or situation that requires first aid.

Ironman is a top-of-the-line corporation, and every event resonates with energy, enthusiasm and efficiency. About two years ago, though, Ironman was struggling to get enough volunteers. Many event organizers have a hard time filling volunteer slots, but Ironman organizers have to string out 80 lifeguards in 2.4 miles of ocean, get about 30 volunteers to help athletes out of their wetsuits, staff two 40-person crews to hand out special needs’ bags, and adequately man drink stations and first aid stations. In addition, volunteers are needed to stand at the finish line and “catch” athletes who might “fall” as they cross the finish line. Not to mention the usual volunteers for registration, directions, and food services. At this year’s Ironman Florida, organizers needed a minimum 600 volunteers—but they more than covered their needs with more than 900 volunteers!

How did Ironman Florida get so many volunteers? Organizers recruited volunteers by pledging donations to local organizations and schools that helped staff the water and Gatorade stations. Ironman also rewards volunteers by giving them the opportunity to be first in line to sign up as participants in next year’s event. Plus, the volunteer T-shirts are cool. If you want people waiting in line to volunteer for your event, my suggestion would be to offer a small incentive to your volunteers—even if it’s just a cool T-shirt or homemade chocolate chip cookies.

Lastly, you could recruit volunteers the old-fashioned way: by word of mouth. Recently I was in Panama City, Fla., to announce at a kids’ triathlon and to watch my wife rock the Ironman. One of our Panama City friends asked my wife to spread the word that volunteers were still needed. Some of our friends from Tallahassee had traveled for the event as well, so my wife recruited them as volunteers. In the end, my wife recruited more than half of the volunteers at the event! So, don’t be afraid to ask your friends to help, and ask them to ask their friends, and so on.

I think I have another stretch of four events over five weeks coming up, so I’ll be sure to pass along more planning tips from those events as well. Anything for my fellow event volunteers and sports event planners!