Twelve years ago I determined to reinstitute the olde, sacred gatherings entire towns enjoyed for centuries on end. I took a bold leap of faith in this regard, as I had no roadmap, no guide, no mentor, and no predecessor for the trail I intended to blaze. Since then, though, my annual, free, public Witch ritual has become a cherished tradition attended by thousands nationwide. Indeed, its success has been emulated by folks as far away as Australia.
Creating and conducting huge, public gatherings takes nerves of steel, transcendent vision, media savvy, and a wicked balance of tenacity and flexibility that few folks dare to achieve. But once you learn my secrets for ensuring their success, you too, can get thousands to attend gatherings that highlight your cause or idea!
The first few years are the hardest, as you not only have to manage a million details, but must educate locals and hold endless TV, radio, and newspaper interviews. This takes great juggling, aplomb, articulateness, perfected "sound bites", makeup, attire that catches viewers interest, and the certainty that you can handle instant interviews by phone at the drop of a hat while answering e-mail from excited attendees wanting more info.
Your idea or theme may seem novel to locals at first. If so, spend the first two years debunking assumptions -- from year 3 on, however, simply focus your PR and publicity on the upcoming year's theme meaning related to what you're trying to accomplish, and whatever particular publicity "hook" you're using to drum up enthusiasm for it.
Pick one cause, and hold the gathering on the same date and time every year. Consistency is key to cultivating a loyal attendance whose numbers increase each year as the gathering's infamy spreads by word of mouth.
Use all the free resources you can to cut event costs. Solicit volunteers to help you decorate, to donate decor for the night, to transport props, to help you setup and clean up afterward, to post flyers and spread the word. Miracles are possible when folks pitch in to make something new happen.
Think BIG. Don't just drape a cloth or two. Imagine the most elaborate rite of your dreams, then work for months to make your vision manifest! As long as you're going to do a gathering, do it so hundreds and thousands, not a mere handful of your friends, can fully participate in it and duly take heart from your dream.
Though the idea may seem daunting, doing so touches attendees' hearts in a very deep way and gives everyone a sense of accomplishment and hope.
Save something for the sequel. Don't put ALL your ideas into one gathering -- remember that you're going to be conducting it in a slightly different way every year for years to come, so save many other aspects about the general cause you've chosen to highlight, so you'll have endless themes relating to it to feature in following years.
Trust no one, but keep everyone "in the loop". Words are cheap. Volunteers promise to help you with this or that, bit they often flake out. Whenever someone actually delivers on their promises, hug them hard and thank them profusely. Send out constant e-mails letting everyone know what you need, and setup meeting dates, times, and locations, etc. Don't send form letter "thank-yous" afterward Instead, e-mail personal, detailed thanks to each person who helped in any way.
Ask early and often. Ask for help from all your e-contacts and friends, relatives or whomever. Beg them to donate tables, chairs, whatever you need then label them with masking tape, and have them pick up their stuff the week after the event. Ask that people play parts or roles. Tell them what you want, how they should dress, then work with them so they get it right and make your cause look polished and authentic.
Throw everything at it but the kitchen sink. What often looks a tad "trashy" in day light, looks gorgeous in moonlight or by torchlight. Think of color in terms of how it will be reflected and multiplied by candlelight. One to three main colors work best to help you emphasize a particular theme.
Put forth the best look you can. Precious heirloom tablecloths covering card tables are preferable to plastic drop-cloths. It's only one night, and you can clean or dry-clean valuables afterward.
Think outside the box. During year one when we wanted to weave a massive dream-catcher using attendees hands, we used un-dyed cotton clothesline that worked beautifully on site!
Publicize, publicize, publicize. Tout your event via every free media outlet you can, such as the lifestyle sections and events calendars in newspapers, on radio stations, online, and prior events (we announce Samhain at the Pagan Pride Day a couple of weeks before our rite). Our posting about Samhain 12 this year got 11,000 hits on Witchvox.com because we've learned how to link our event to current controversies or news stories; entice attendees with tantalizing promises about what we're going to provide them at the rite; and a map to the gathering site.
Stay on top of everything, all the time. For us, It takes us a full 6 months to gather, fix and recycle from previous years, make new stuff, publicize the event, do pre-rite interviews, organize volunteers and rite roles, devise the rite itself, burn the music onto CD, and a million other details. Make written lists, talk often, share ideas, brain-storm options, locate venues quickly, and stay on top of all of it from start to finish.
The conductor or conductress rules. Have only one or two designated organizers who're in charge of all details. Micro-manage to ensure success. The main organizers should consider the merits of all possibilities originating from others, but they must have the final say, or chaos rapidly ensues. One of the worst gatherings we ever attended was so because it was organized by an extensive "Board" whose members individually promised much, but each failed to deliver.
Don't allow vendors, and issue no disclaimers. Many gathering organizers treat vendors better than attendees causing undue friction between the two groups. Instead, allow businesses to only post business cards or pamphlets on a table, and encourage them to give out free samples.
Don't be a buzz-kill by posting endless, legalese-type "disclaimers" forbidding this or that from the premises. We encourage each attendee's free expression during our gatherings.