Running a Successful Competition

Organizing the competition to find my successor was my last task as the Arts & Sciences Champion of Dragon’s Mist. That happened last weekend, and I’m very pleased with how it went. Here are a few notes that may help you organize a competition of your own. I’ll cover Marketing, Design, Prepping Entrants and Judges, Prizes, and Day Of.

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Details on entrants and their entries are at the bottom of the post. 🙂

Marketing

First of all, nobody can enter a contest they don’t know about. It’s important to start your spamming publicizing of an event early, particularly if it requires documentation or anything else that needs lead time. I started about 6 months out, and followed up the initial announcement with monthly reminders, using fun language and lots of enthusiasm. Info was also posted on the DM website, and my Events page as soon as details were available. In all cases, posts included the date and location of the event, the deadline to enter, and other pertinent info like the format of the competition. I kept the FB posts short enough to actually read, with a link to my post here containing further details. I posted on all the Facebook groups for the three local Baronies, plus the Kingdom A&S group. If we were still using email lists, I would have used those. I also personally invited some artisans to compete.

Design

My first goal was to increase participation, since getting enough entrants has been a chronic problem in the tri-baronial area and even at the Kingdom level.

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The baronial competitions usually require two entries. I decided on a single entry (oral presentation, documentation, and display), with a largesse donation. I felt this would allow people to focus on one excellent project, and (if they wanted) use the largesse as a way to show they weren’t a one-trick pony. Having only one entry also encouraged more first-time competitors, and made filling judging slots easier. Largesse donations were scored on period-ness, investment of time / skill, and general beauty / utility, for a total possible 10 points.

Don’t be afraid to change your format or try something new. The Barony of Stromgard went with an “Iron Chef” style “make whatever you can in three hours with random materials we will supply on the day” competition that revitalized A&S a few years ago.

I had 4 entrants. There would have been 5, but one got snowed in! Oregon in March. Ug. Anyway, the goal of increased participation was accomplished!

NOTE: Using a basic Excel spreadsheet was an easy way to track entrants, the name of their entry, contact info, and judges assigned to them. 

Prepping the Entrants and Judges

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My second goal was to maximize the quality of entries. I was in frequent contact (via group / blind copy email) with my entrants. Right after the entry deadline, I laid out exactly what was expected, and pointed them towards articles about research and documentation. I made it clear my job was to help them, and when anyone asked a question I shared the answer with the entire field of entrants. As we got closer, I sent friendly reminders and suggestions, and again offered help.

Since I decided to use 100pt Kingdom forms, I knew the numbers might be shocking at first glance. I wanted to forestall that reaction by prepping my entrants with A Note on Scoring, written by me, Eulalia Piebakere, and Idonia Sherwood. (NOTE: I found this afterwards, which would have been useful). I also spoke with my entrants when giving them their feedback forms, making sure they really understood what the numbers meant, and congratulating them on their terrific work. In this case I was completely sincere – everyone did a great job for their level, and I was thrilled to give out personal favors. The usual advice is to wait until the next day to open them, to let the adrenaline die down a bit. I was super impressed with this particular crowd and 29541774_1942390349167656_8334670151332233475_ndefinitely felt my second goal was met. If you have an entrant that scores very poorly, you might want to take them aside and break the news gently, making sure they understand the things they did correctly and how they can grow in the future.

Judges were also provided with the Note on Scoring. Having the explicit rubric of the Kingdom forms made it easier to get consistent, appropriate numbers. Judges were chosen for their knowledge of the entry’s area. When selecting judges, take care to use people who will be neither unnecessarily harsh, nor indiscriminately full of praise. You want to hit that sweet spot of helpful constructive criticism, delivered with care. You also want to choose judges that have a reputation for being reliable – scrambling for a last-minute replacement means you’ll probably sacrifice knowledge or ability.

I suggested that documentation be sent in a week early, to give the judges more time to read and comment on them. 4 out of 5 entrants used this option.

Prizes

How do you attract busy bees? With sweet, sweet pollen.

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Although word fame and the honor of being Champion is enough for some, I knew I’d draw more people with some good bling. I’m big on participation prizes, so everyone – judges and entrants – got an acid-free sketch pad with a red or blue marbled paper cover (the event  was a Venetian “Carnevale” theme).

Having the largesse donations made a big difference. In previous competitions, I’ve had to beg, borrow, and steal from the baronial largesse coffers. This time, the Champion and Honorable Mention got to select a prize from the table (we wound up with 5 options since the absent entrant donated her largesse anyway). I also made some jewelry for the champion, a set of bracelet and earrings in baronial colors (she got to pick gold-plated or silver). We even had a drive-by donation of a handmade book for the Champ, which I really appreciated.

Day Of

Actually, this starts whenever your event setup happens. In this case it was the night before. Ideally, you’ll have a quiet place for oral presentations, and chairs for judges and populace to listen. Posting a schedule of presentations help encourage an interested crowd. In a perfect world, your judges will have a secure place to discuss and decide on scoring afterwards. Remember to leave enough time between presentations for notes /  judging if a judge is being used more than once.

Set up tables and tablecloths for the displays. I printed out signage for each entrant (visible next to Gudrun’s coat) and for the prize table. If you can, remind your entrants and judges to use the restroom before their presentations. Having snacks and water on hand is a good idea if it’s not a feast / foody environment.

I also made a sign with “5 min to Q&A” and “5 min” that I flashed at the entrants during the presentations. I used my phone timer app to keep on track, and paused the timer when we were overpowered by herald announcements, etc.

All in all, it was a smooth event and I’m very pleased. I got lucky, but the more prep you do, the luckier you’ll get! 🙂

Congratulations to Thora, the new DM Arts & Sciences Champion who did incredible weaving, with extensive documentation! And to Gudrun, whose Mongol coat was so impressive she was also awarded a prize. Marel’s Mongol coat and Tatyanna’s illuminated poem were also well done and joyfully presented. Sadly, our 5th entrant, Drusa, was snowed in and could not attend, but since she had left her largesse entry (Norse bentwood box) with me early, she still donated it!

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About Sharon Rose, LAc, MSAOM

Acupuncturist, medical massage therapist, historian, scientist, road-tripper, geek, LARP & board gamer, food fan, Roman fanatic, belly-laugher.
This entry was posted in Competitions, SCA specific. Bookmark the permalink.

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