What I learned as event staff on the Feast of Three Princes
The Feast of Three Princes was a virtual feast, hosted by the Crown Province of Østgarðr on November 8, 2020 at 7pm Eastern time. Participants cooked their own meals, set their home tables as if for an SCA feast, and then joined a video call with other people doing the same thing in order to re-create the experience of a medieval feast despite the public health constraints that prevented them from gathering in person. Main components of the event included: three recipe books shared in advance for attendees to follow along with at home; a bardic competition over Zoom; breakout rooms representing tables at which to have discussions; and “site token” postcards with a custom design by one of the Three Princes.
The idea for a virtual event was first brought up in our monthly Østgarðr commons meeting by Perez ben Meir Gershon, who was a co-event-steward/main point of contact/autocrat with Friderich Grimme. I served as a technical coordinator, also referred to as a hall steward. This was the first event I’d been on the staff for in a non-ad-hoc/day-of assistance way.
We planned for anywhere between 25-250 guests, and had around 60-65 attendees across 40+ Zoom logins.
What did our planning process look like?
We met Sunday nights for about an hour every week to discuss what was needed when. I took detailed notes (in the same working document every week) with lists of actions to have for next week/assigned owners.
Regular attendees included: seneschal, both co-autocrats, our Vicereine, bardic coordinator, and webminster and deputy webminister. Recipe authors for the three cookbooks attended some planning meetings, as necessary. We also later recruited a MC (to be the face of day-of announcements/flow) and a stage manager (to run day-of spotlights in Zoom and keep track of overall event timing with a timing sheet), who joined the last few meetings. The East Kingdom Deputy Webminister, Symon of Barnesdale, attended a few meetings as well to help us get set up with the East Kingdom Zoom setup.
Our first meeting was September 6, and our last meeting was the week after the event, November 16, to talk about how it went. We would recommend leaving more than two months’ time to plan an event with this many moving parts in the future!
What recommendations do I have for virtual event hosts?
Choose one communication method between event hosts, and stick to it.
We switched between Facebook Messenger and email before the event, and added day-of chat in Google Hangouts. Particularly as we are all based in the US and the US presidential election was the week immediately preceding the event, some people didn’t regularly check Facebook as the event drew near; others primarily used Facebook and didn’t respond to email. One planning team member missed that day-of chat was in the previously-unused Google Hangouts, and that made some parts of the evening go less smoothly than was hoped for without their input.
Share guidelines in advance to all participants.
We did a last-minute push on social media reminding people to attend in garb, but we probably could’ve communicated this more clearly and sooner.
I thought it went well to remind participants of the anti-harassment policy, schedule, and other relevant information which would’ve ordinarily been in a site booklet (such as a land acknowledgement, event schedule, and some Zoom how-to instructions) as a “rotating carousel” slideshow in the half hour before the event started. We also read this out at the very start of the event. We wished we’d included additional guidelines in this (reminder to stay SCA-appropriate and family friendly in topic choice; reminder of supported spoken languages for the event).
Choose the right software for the job; communicate technical requirements to attendees early and often.
We relied heavily on Zoom’s “breakout rooms” and the ability for participants to self-assign a breakout room, which launched as a Zoom update approximately halfway through the event planning process in late September, and was not available on all platforms (notably Chromebooks didn’t have the update). We had a backup plan to pre-assign breakout rooms but I didn’t double check that it’d work in advance, and on the day-of, it didn’t. So we had to ask attendees to update to a later release of Zoom during the event if they weren’t up to date. I wish I’d made this clearer in advance over social media instead of just on the event website.
For an event of this size, it wasn’t a huge problem to manually assign a few stragglers once most people upgraded; but note that only the host (not any co-hosts) can do this in Zoom.
If you want to host a high-interaction event with more people or on other devices, it might be best to choose a platform which makes this easier. We also received mixed feedback around closing the breakout rooms to conversation and returning everyone to the main hall for bardic performances – depending on the type of event atmosphere you’re looking for, it may be either a pro or a con that it’s not easy to leave breakout rooms in Zoom without closing them entirely.
Plan in advance for what to do when things don’t go according to plan
When there were lulls, our amazing MC Catelin Straquhin jumped in to entertain attendees while also trying to figure out what was going on in order to communicate that to attendees. For our next event, we’ve learned to have separate people focused on “entertaining attendees/filling time” and on “figuring out what’s supposed to be happening in this lull”.
We’d also recommend trying to identify the weakest parts of the event plan day-of, to get extra eyes on how to resolve any issues (hopefully) before they happen.
I’ve focused here on what I would improve, but it would be remiss not to say that the event went well! We received feedback that it felt more like an SCA Feast than any of our other virtual events in Østgarðr had, which is a huge honor and success!
We hope to incorporate some of the things we learned in Deck The Halls of Valhalla, which our canton of Brokenbridge will be hosting virtually in January.