Throwing an event can be stressful, that’s just a given. No matter how much preparation is done, anything can go wrong at the drop of a hat. Now imagine you’re throwing 50 events that all happen at the same time. Sounds insane, right? That’s what I thought, too. Yet a small group of students in NYC developed Raising the Bar, a lecture series that takes place simultaneously throughout an assortment of bars citywide. I recently attended their San Francisco RTB event and it was an impactful and eye-opening chat. I had to find out how they came up with the idea. More importantly, I wanted to know how they were able to throw an event of this magnitude without ripping their hair out. I chatted with Inbar Dankner, the Executive Director and Co-Founder for Raising the Bar, about how she and her team successfully throw such an innovative event.
Michael: Tell me about the Raising the Bar series. How did it come about?
Inbar: Raising the Bar actually started as a student initiative almost 3 years ago in New York with 50 talks in 50 bars in one night all at the same time, so you can imagine it’s a pretty big production. Since then we’ve had two additional talks, one in New York in November and one in San Francisco a few weeks ago and we’re gonna have another in Hong Kong. We’re actually expanding to more events in Europe and we hope to be in 8 different countries within a year.
Michael: That’s incredible! Now I went to one of the talks in San Francisco and I’m curious how you are operating this, I mean, it’s a free ticket, isn’t it? Hopefully I didn’t rip you guys off somehow…
Inbar: We work with sponsors, I mean a lot of companies are interested in making education more accessible, so usually it’s free or $5 maximum because we want it to be available to as many people as possible. When we started we were all students, and most of us were very lucky to have the best professors in the world, and we wanted to give that opportunity to others who weren’t in the classroom with us. It’s less intimidating to hear such incredible lectures in a friendly, neighborhood bar than in a stuffy and competitive classroom.
Michael: It looks like there’s a lot of variety in the conversations, from ‘Urban Fishing’ to ‘The Unsexy Side of Sex’ to ‘The Living, the Dead, and the Unborn: A Smorgasbord of Bioethics.’ I have to know, how do you come up with them?
Inbar: We actually ask the professors and speakers to choose the topic they’re presenting, because we want to have a variety of subjects for people to consider attending. We also wanted to make sure they are passionate about their topic, so they have control over what the talk about.
Michael: Are there a lot of bar crawl conversations out there, and if so how does yours stand out?
Inbar: Raising the Bar is mainly different in that it’s mostly free, and these kind of conferences or events like TED Talks cost $5,000 to $30,000 dollars a ticket, which is crazy. We know that there is also digital content out there as well, but there is something really special about the personal experience. You have a chance to be a part of it and ask questions at the end as well, so we want people to not stream the talk but to contribute to the conversation.
Michael: I definitely felt a very relaxed vibe at the talk, so I think you really are pulling that off well. You mentioned your first event went well in NYC. Im curious, how did you get people to attend your first event?
Inbar: Hands down social media is the way to spread the word. We knew from the beginning we had a lot of contacts already available to build a community. We already have a community online, so we just shared it throughout our social communities and it spread. Raising the Bar’s first event sold out within 24 hours without any non social promotion.
Michael: What kinds of tools do you think are the biggest necessities for throwing together a gathering of this kind?
Inbar: You definitely need to be properly organized. If you are going to be throwing 50 events at once, you need to have a large, trustworthy team that can be left unattended to manage their individual event. You can’t be everywhere when you have so many locations. Prepare everything in advance so that the night can run smoothly. We usually have an executive producer for every bar, a volunteer for each producer, and an area manager to help the producers if they need assistance nearby.
Michael: That sounds like a lot of recruitment and planning. How much preparation goes into planning an event of this size?
Inbar: Usually a production of 50 events takes 3 to 6 months to organize and recruit assistance for. It’s important to set specific goals for specific people. We get a team member for every different aspect of the event. Some people are responsible for gathering volunteers, some are responsible for reaching out to professors, potential sponsors, social media marketing, monitoring technology in specific locations, etc.
Michael: Putting together an event of this magnitude could be stressful, I mean, I have no idea how I’d be able to manage an event with 50 active locations at once, so how would you say you manage stress throughout the process and when it’s time for the big day?
Inbar: I think that it’s really important to work with a team that you really trust, and have experience in events. Pre-production is less stressful, because we make enough time to prepare, but the production itself is stressful. No matter what you do, there will always be unexpected things that happen, no matter how planned or organized you are. You just have to work under pressure, and that’s why we have built a war room – one or two people that manages everything from one location. So we know if one of the executive producers is calling us from a location saying something is not working, the war room will contact the area manager and assist. So have your support covered.
Michael: For such a small team to set up something that requires so much work, there is obviously a passion that you have for RTB. What’s your motivation to run a production of this size and type?
Inbar: We are really surprised with the amount of positive feedback and we are seeing people from around the world contact us for an event in their own city. I think that there is a demand for these kinds of talks and we want to create that interesting experience for people with an interest in learning. A lot of people still want to learn and we want to help them do that.