What we’re learning about at the moment: event management

Event management

Running a science event is a good way to get an idea out there without the risk of pitching an idea for a show you haven’t written yet for funding, and hoping you can make it work.

So you book a venue, settle a date, book a bill of acts and then panic for a month and a half about how on earth you’re going to sell enough tickets.

TFers Rachel Wheeley and Aimee Eckert run Dead Talks and Dr. Jiggs Boson’s Charming Science Friends. We have put on half a dozen gigs since the Talent Factory rolled into town, with decent audiences, sell out shows, not so sell out shows and bookings at Green Man and Cheltenham Science Festivals. Talent Factory has also produced Agony Auncles of Science which will be performed at the Edinburgh festival in August this year.



Scary Boots at the helm of Agony Auncles


Don’t be afraid to fail. If an idea needs tweaking, you will find out by putting it on. Not everything is going to be an overnight success like Dr Jiggs. Rach genuinely thought it would be a good idea to do a show with a shredder on a plinth in the middle of the stage for people to come and shred their notes at the end of a set (I still think that’s a good idea – Rach.)

Datewise, try to avoid clashes with things that will draw your audience (depends where you are and what type of show it is.) If it’s a science thing, don’t have it on the same night as a Science Museum Late, or anything by Steve Cross. Anything. If he’s in a pub, all the science people will just sort of flock to it. Ideally, run your event when he’s out of the country.

First things first

Book a venue

  • What capacity room should you book?
  • Does the venue have the right AV equipment?
  • Does the venue have someone who can run the tech for you on the night?
  • Is there a cost to hire the room, a door split or a minimum spend on the bar?
  • Will they promote your event on their website & social media?
  • Will they provide a cash box and float for on the door ticket sales?
  • Don’t assume anything.


What format you do is pretty open ended. From stand up to all singing, all dancing cabaret, to panel show to monologue. It’s really up to you.


Dr Jiggs Bowson’s Charming Science Friends – All singing, all dancing science cabaret at it’s finest (check it out at the Green Man festival this summer.)

Book acts

Be clear with acts what the date is, what the likely call (arrival) time will be, what the brief is and whether they will be compensated with expenses or a fee. If the gig is for charity, let them know which one. They may have a personal connection. If you are charging for tickets and it isn’t a charity gig, are you paying the acts? Can you afford as many acts as you’ve booked?!

Email the acts and other organisers – remind them of the venue, the address, call time, brief, timing requirements, your social media details and a contact for someone on the night itself. Give them a deadline for slides.

Be prepared for it to go wrong – book one more act than you need. Give some thought to your running order. Work out where the energetic acts are and where the less energetic acts are. Don’t clump them together. Try to give the event a flow of energy, culminating in something excellent!


Make a poster for the venue. If you don’t have Photoshop, you might be able to cobble something together in Powerpoint.

Submit your event to the press association etc…


Londonist (other conurbations are available): https://londonist.typeform.com/to/mKTdSo


Dead talks in londonist

Florence as Hypatia at Dead Talks, featured in the Londonist in April


Make a FB event. Invite all the acts, plus organisers/other associated folk. Ask people to share the link with their networks. Add details to it every so often so that the event looks alive. Bear in mind, images wise that a FB event header is 1920 x 1080 pixels. It is worth making images that fit this exactly or you risk losing important info in the cropping.

If there’s no difference between the ‘on the door’ price and the advance price, people won’t buy in advance. Aimee cleverly side steps this by coming up with ideas that sell out weeks before they happen.

Always Be Selling

Tell everyone about your next gig. Which reminds me, have I mentioned Stand Up for Towel Day?


Don’t forget to write and prepare your set!

The problem with running a night is that you can get very pre-occupied with ticket sales, logistics and admin. This is not great for coming up with funny ideas, or researching your topic.

Allocate some time for writing your set, even if you haven’t sold any tickets yet, plus time for rehearsal, if that’s how you work.

Consider assigning one of the organisers ‘producer’ on the night, who can deal with audience members, venue staff and acts so that the MC can get in the zone.



Charlotte Hale in control. The event is all about the content. All this admin cannot come in front of making a brilliant show!



On the night

Control seating

Some seating arrangements are terrible for comedy. Experiment, but it may be necessary to rearrange the seating arrangement in your venue before you start. If there are any chairs facing the opposite way from the stage (it happens), get them turned around! Packing everyone together in rows can help to create a good crowd dynamic. Encourage people to fill the venue from the front row backwards (people are often nervous of the front row.)

people clapping

There’s a whole other blog post to be written about crowd dynamics. Good seating arrangements help.


The first thing your audience is going to experience when they come into the space is the music you’re playing. Ian Bowkett (the tech who demands respect) has a playlist with inoffensive rock songs on it, and it works very well. Inject a bit of energy into the room, but don’t put anybody off. You can’t beat the White Stripes.


It is worth making a few signs to direct people to your space. Especially if the space is upstairs or downstairs in a pub, or somewhere difficult to find.

Level Up Bar

Don’t let your audience get lost.

Also, stick a running order up somewhere for the acts. If they can clearly see where they are in the bill they won’t need to ask.


Does the venue have decent enough lighting? If not, could you bring some along to help set the right mood? Parcans are good for a car headlight style spotlight effect. LED lights are cheaper but can throw weird light around the space and annoy Steve when he’s taking photos.


Get a spotlight on performers faces if possible so everyone can see expressions like this one, by Anna Ploszajski.

Beware that a projector directly behind the stage means that everyone will have their slides projected onto their face. Not always a good look.



Projector face – not a good look


I mean, you can just stand to the left or the right of the screen, but even better, find a venue where the screen is above head height. Like the Imax at the Science Museum. Erm… yeah.


Do you have the right connector for your laptop? Have you received all the contributor’s slides? Do you need a clicker for your presentations (yes you do.)


Sadie Harridon and Jamie Upton take over the Sir John SOane's Museum oN Valentine's Day

Sadie Harrison and Jamie Upton: don’t forget that clicker



If you’re MCing, hand over the running of the gig to your producer 10 minutes before you start, so that you can get into performance headspace.



Charlotte Mykura demonstrates “performance headspace”



Once you’re there and on stage in front of your audience, forget about all of this and allow yourself to respond to the room. React to things that happen, don’t stick too rigidly to what you prepared and stay on your toes! (Sprezzatura is Italian, it means “be in the moment”, roughly.)


Florence and Mike “being in the moment”

Mailing list

Have a mailing list for people and you can start to build your audience! Hand it around at the beginning of the second half so it can be passed around. Enter these into a Mailchimp (other email distribution options are available) and let people know when the next gig is.

Anything we’ve missed? Add it in the comments. Good luck!

The Showoff Talent Factory – What We’re Learning

Why does this blog exist?

We’re eight months into the Showoff Talent Factory experience, and it’s time for the people involved to start to tell everyone else their successes, failures, lessons and awards.

First of all, a history lesson. In summer 2016 I invited anyone from across the UK who had performed at Science Showoff or another gig I’ve been part of to apply for a new scheme that would give them a year of mentoring, training, opportunities and support at no cost. It’s called the Showoff Talent Factory and 69 people applied, 14 of whom I took on after sifting the applications with two other experienced judges from the science communication world. You can see the Talent Factory members on the front page of this site – they’re a mixture of professional scientists, performers, researchers and producers of science communication. They were chosen as much for their willingness to support and develop others as for their own performance potential.

Alex Lathbridge and Anna Ploszajski applauding

Alex Lathbridge and Anna Ploszajski in the final of Famelab

The Showoff Talent Factory exists for two main reasons:

The first is that I used to be Head of Public Engagement at UCL, working with researchers over a long time period to develop their skills and ideas. One of the most rewarding parts of that kind of job is helping people improve, and seeing how far they can come with your help. People I helped to start off in talking publicly about their science became TV presenters, radio stars, world-famous TED speakers, podcasters and performers of all kinds. Having been freelance for a year, and generally only working with people once or twice, I really missed that kind of intensive interaction over time, so thought I’d offer a cohort a chance to do something similar with me.

The second is that I’m lucky enough to have a Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellowship at the moment. This is money and time to try new things, and one of the things I said to the panel that chose to fund me was that I would share the benefits of the Fellowship as widely as I could. I quickly realised that I couldn’t support huge networks of science communication practitioners and performers across the country (although with friends I am trying to do so in London), and the Talent Factory is a way to help people who don’t have help coming from anywhere else.

So far the Talent Factory members have set up a strong mutual support network, gigged across the UK including at festivals, entered competitions, won competitions, had training from some amazing names including Fiona Laird, Simon Watt and Sarah Bennetto and developed lots of new podcast, video and live products. They’ve experimented with new styles of performance (I’m pretty sure that the only regular science drag acts in the UK are growing out of this group) and pushed the edges of what science is supposed to be in a live environment. They’ve been screen-tested by TV companies and performed for corporate, museum, school and family audiences, as well as drunk geeks in pubs. They have had many silly photos taken.

Sadie Harrison and Jamie Upton take over the Sir John Soane's Museum on Valentine's Day

Sadie Harrison and Jamie Upton take over the Sir John Soane’s Museum on Valentine’s Day

This blog is about extending the group of people from the science communication world we’re supporting, by sharing the things we’ve learned. It will be written by people from right across the Talent Factory, and include successes, failures, formal evaluation and informal anecdotes about our work. It sits alongside work we’re doing to widen the pool of talent we’re helping, like the upcoming Science Showoff gigs in London curated by Alex Lathbridge,

This blog is also the beginning of recruiting another year of Talent Factory performers. This year’s group aren’t going anywhere, but we will be giving another 10-15 people a chance to be part of the programme and get the same opportunities that current folk have had. The scheme will open on 12th May 2017 (the formal launch will be at the London Scicomm Symposium on May 11th), with a closing date toward the end of June, and new Talented Factorians starting at the beginning of September. I’d encourage anyone thinking about applying to come and have a chat with me at a London Scicomm Social.

Cerys Bradley and Florence Schechter as Newton and Liebniz

Cerys Bradley and Florence Schechter as Newton and Liebniz

I’ve titled this blog “What We’re Learning” rather than “What We’ve Learned” to remind us all that every single performance, every gig, every talk is just practice for the next one. There’s no perfect endpoint that we can reach, just more experiments to try and more new ideas to develop.

Steve Cross

Steve Cross at Dr Jiggs Bowson's Charming Science Friends

Steve Cross at Dr Jiggs Bowson’s Charming Science Friends