How to Build a PoRtaL the Terrible Creations Way

Decide what kind of event you want. Some things are already set (not in stone, though): the PoRtaL is a three- to four-day LARP-themed event and it’s free. The rest is pretty much up to you. 

Is it going to be more academic or more hands-on? More for the general public or larp community? More talking or more playing? 

Make an outline and stick to it. It will help you shape a lot of other things, starting with whether you will have more than one program track and will they overlap. Hint: the latter is not very popular with the community. 🙂

Set the date. Traditionally, the PoRtaL has been held on either the last weekend of February or the first weekend of March. It’s a good time slot, although you need to be careful not to overlap with the Knudepunkt, mostly because of the keynote speakers. 

It’s never too early to announce it and you can never remind people too much about it. OK, you can but you know what we mean.

Pick a theme. Or more than one. It will help you focus and make decisions (regarding venue, for example), but also will help in presentation to a larger, non-larping public. Choose themes that might be useful to you and your community, as well as those that might appeal to a larger community. Make a mix.

We picked education and monetization as the main themes for the PoRtaL 5 and it worked quite well. Same goes for the PoRtaL 8 – main themes were (again) education and monetization but we went for more organization & logistic related themes too.

Pick speakers. It’s OK to have open calls for presentations and other content, but we advise you against relying solely on that. There should be at least one or two keynote speakers, people with a lot of knowledge and experience in areas you want to cover. 

More than three is overkill – it’s better to get them to do a talk and a workshop or a round table than to have more of them. Reduces costs significantly. But if you can afford it – go for it.

Reach out to foreign speakers. Most of them are accessible and willing to participate if you cover travel and accommodation expenses. Let us know if you need help in contacting anyone. 

Bear in mind that some of them have to be booked months in advance because of their busy schedule. Mads Lunau, for example, has been contacted as early as September 2016 for the 2017 conference and it was just in time.

Pick a venue. If possible, do this after you decide what convention/conference will look like, be about and offer to its participants. Whatever you choose, it will have to have at least one more room available than the program requires. Few more won’t hurt, if you can afford it. These should be easily accessible. 

Create a program outline. And gradually fill it out until you get a fully fledged schedule. It helps in putting things and needs in perspective.

Make an early call for papers/games. Impose a reasonable (but strict) deadline. Insist on getting presentations in advance. That way you can prepare them for the event and for publishing beforehand.

Publish the program as soon as possible. Two months before the event would be ideal, one month is a minimum. It doesn’t have to be a full schedule, but you should have at least 80 percent of the program ready and confirmed by that time, keynote speakers included. We didn’t do it for the PoRtaL 5. Cost us another 20-30 attendees at least, probably more.

Make a budget early on. As soon as you have the program outline, choose your speakers and get an option for a venue. This way you can make a pretty good estimate of how much money you will need, since traveling and accommodation expenses, along with renting the venue, will probably take up most of the final costs (at least two-thirds, if not more).

It is the PoRtaL’s tradition to give mugs with the Conference’s insignia to speakers and everyone else who actively participates in the program. We gave them out to volunteers too.

Include in the budget all the logistical stuff you might need: projectors, posters, handouts, cars (with designated drivers), plastic cups… Think hard about what you might need, and then some. Make an estimation and then add 10-15 percent to it.

Get a team together.  You’ll need dedicated persons for these positions: program coordinator, hospitality coordinator, sponsor coordinator, logistic coordinator, volunteers coordinator. These people should primarily focus on their respective areas. Exclusively, if possible.

Other than that, you’ll need people who will handle web and social media, as well as public relations, media and marketing. In reality, many of these roles will overlap, naturally. But make sure everyone knows what his or her job is.

Let one person call the shots on a strategic level (what should be done and when), let coordinators handle things on a tactical level (how it should be done and by whom).

Hospitality coordinator is especially important because it is his/her task to arrange everything needed for guest speakers to arrive and leave, and feel comfortable during their stay. Do check out beforehand if they have any special needs or requirements (allergies, special diets and so forth). 

Make sure that everyone in the team has well defined responsibilities and understands them.

Make an operational plan and stick to it. Deadlines are important, even if only to break them. 🙂

Make registrations online available. For both participants and speakers/presentations. We didn’t do this for the PoRtaL 5 and it turned out to create quite a mess. We did it for the PoRtaL 8 and it gave us a pretty good idea how many people we should expect.

Create visual identity such as logo and alike. It’ll help you in promotion.

Be very persistent in promoting the event. Don’t rely just on social media. Depending on your agenda, reach out to anyone who might be interested: traditional media, educational and government institutions, companies, tourist agencies, NGOs… Go beyond your inner circle. Think big.

If you want to, you’ll be able to use the Facebook page Portal Larp Convention which now has 310 449 1032 likes and 307 466 1066 followers (we started at approx. 60 before the PoRtaL 5). There is also this Facebook group. We didn’t really use it but it might be helpful. There was also a Conference database (first of its kind, as far as we know) but we gave up on that idea because we didn’t want to tangle with the GDPR issues. You, of course, might take another approach.

Photos from the PoRtaL 5 (should be attributed to Irena Hartmann) and PoRtaL 8 (Matej Čelar: here and here; Terrible Creations: here, here, here and here) are at your disposal.

Check out responses to our survey to see what people liked and what they didn’t like about the PoRtaL 5. We didn’t do it for the PoRtaL 8 because, frankly, we forgot about it.

Streaming and filming the conference is extremely useful in many ways. If you can do it – go for it.

Build a dedicated web-site. We can’t stress enough how important this is and how much we regret for not publishing our earlier for the PoRtaL 5. Apart from obvious (program, speakers, directions), include tips on local shops, bars and restaurants. We planned to but didn’t manage to get it done in time. And it was sorely missed. 

Internet domains such as portal-larp.com and portal-larp.eu are available at this moment and are rather cheap. We decided to use our own domain in order to promote it and make things easier for us. You might choose otherwise.

Get sponsors. Again, start early because they will probably need a great deal of convincing. Prepare a brief illustrated summary for them, make LARP interesting and useful, offer something they might perceive as valuable. For the PoRtaL 5 it was a free LARP workshop and a discount for the Terrible Creations’ team building games.

As a rule, you should intensify sponsor drives either during September and early October (when most companies are putting together budgets for next year) or during the second half of November and first half of December (when they are looking to spend money so that their budget won’t be cut down). This is, obviously, not as helpful when the PoRtaL is held in September but you get the idea.

Once more, think big and outside the box. PoRtaL 5’s sponsors were a major Croatian software company and a major Croatian food company. Neither are quite what first come to mind when LARP is involved, but here they were. 

If they can’t provide money, ask for services (flights, accommodation and printing come to mind) and goods (snacks, beverages…)

Consider EU funds and locally available grants, too. Well, we have already, haven’t we? 😀 But it’s good to always be on the lookout. 

Make local partnerships. Bars, restaurants and other businesses near the venue might be willing to offer discounts if you point attendees to their services.

Make space and time for networking. And encourage it. Especially with non-larpers. Do match-making, if possible. Alcohol helps with this. 😉

Afterparty. If you don’t plan to host a dedicated afterparty, don’t forget to pick bars and clubs where you can lead people after the program of the day is done. Prepare more than you need so you can meet the expectations of your guests if they don’t like the first place you lead them to. Have a dedicated person who is familiar with the nightlife in your city and comfortable with staying awake as long as the last guest standing wants to party.

More questions? We’re here for you. 🙂 Good luck! 🙂