July 3 2018

How not to run a LEGO show

I gave a talk at this year’s Fan Weekend in Portugal on the topic of How Not To Run A LEGO Show; what follows is a summary of my points for those who couldn’t make it, as the session wasn’t filmed.

I’ve managed to attend many LEGO shows over the last 4 or 5 years, either as a visitor or as an exhibitor (more often than not!), as well as running the popular UK LEGO event lists for a few years. I’ve also been involved in organising a fair few LEGO shows myself (such as Brick Alley’s Shildon Brick Show), so what follows is a mix of my experiences as both an exhibitor, visitor and organiser.

Of course, not every point is likely to be relevant for your own LEGO shows, but hopefully it gives you a good idea of what I’ve found works – and doesn’t work!

1. Don’t over-hype your LEGO show

This is an easy trap to fall in to, and something we’ve done before.

It’s easy to get excited and carried away with your own LEGO shows as organisers, but you need to be realistic about your venue size and the quality and scale of the models you’ll have; it’s easier to impress visitors by promising little and delivering more, than it is by promising an “epic” LEGO show which is in your local village hall with 5 tables of displays.

By all means be excited by your LEGO show – we’re all passionate about the LEGO hobby and it’s infectious! – but consider what the average member of the public wants from a LEGO show (see below!).

2. Don’t forget your exhibitors

LEGO show exhibitors

LEGO displays make the core of most (all?) LEGO shows I’ve attended, and some shows treat exhibitors better than others. What you can provide to AFOLs (Adult Fans of LEGO) exhibiting will vary depending on your venue, LUG funds and more, but as a rule I’d expect a few or more of the below to be a happy exhibitor:

  • Event bricks: every exhibitor I know loves to receive one of those 1×8 LEGO bricks with the name or logo of the show on; a nice memento of the weekend, and not particularly expensive to provide!
  • Tea, coffee and food: at LEGO shows I seem to survive on a combination of tea and biscuits, and almost every show I’ve displayed at has delivered on this. Brickshire shows usually have a great range of cakes for exhibitors (they’re obsessed!); Block Con events provide endless tea and coffee for exhibitors
  • A social event: one of my primary motivations for displaying at LEGO shows is to meet other LEGO fans, and many multi-day LEGO events offer a social evening for exhibitors. These provide a great chance to talk to AFOLs about all things LEGO, as well as creating potential for future collaborations. For most shows I wouldn’t expect this to be subsidised by the event organisers.
  • Accommodation costs(?): if exhibitors are traveling a great distance to come to your LEGO show, try and cover at least a portion of their accommodation costs. This isn’t something we’ve previously been able to do at Brick Alley, but our November show this year should be able to offer some subsidised accommodation after raising trader fees.
  • “Thank you” LEGO sets(?): I exhibit because I enjoy the experience, but free LEGO is always welcome! Some shows provide exhibitors with a “welcome pack” of gifts (such as Brick Live and the Portuguese Fan Weekend), whilst others provide a small free set by way of thanks.

3. Don’t forget your visitors

As an Adult Fan of LEGO arranging a LEGO show, it can be easy to forget that the vast majority of your visitors are likely not to be AFOLs themselves, but rather families having a day out. Here are a few areas you could help improve your event by considering visitors:

  1. Queues: LEGO events we’ve run have, as a rule, been more popular than expected. Anticipate larger crowds than you initially think and work with your venue to try and minimise any likely queue times. Nothing ruins a nice day out than standing in the cold in an endless queue! Some of our previous venues have provided more staff and volunteers to help process visitors entering, which has helped greatly.
  2. Car parking: ah yes; families like to travel by car, and many venues suffer from a severe lack of parking! A city centre venue we use for shows promotes the use of public transport to travel to the event; other venues work with the local council to provide a traffic plan for the event to avoid the event causing chaos to local traffic.
  3. Accessibility: not everyone has the benefit of free mobility, so consider whether your venue is accessible. This isn’t just limited to wheelchair accessibility; people can suffer from all sorts of limitations; if in doubt, ask your venue for advice.
  4. Inclusivity: LEGO shows can be noisy and overwhelming, and for those with additional needs (such as those with autism), that can make them unwelcoming places even for the biggest LEGO fans. We have added an additional needs hour (usually an hour before the show opens to the general public) to shows where venues are open to the idea. This was originally a great idea from the Bricktastic shows here in the UK, run by Fairy Bricks; we don’t ask for any proof as not all needs can be categorised on paper, and this honesty system seems to work well from what I’ve seen at other shows.

4. Fill your venue with static LEGO displays

LEGO brick hire in the UK

It’s easy to fill your venue with LEGO displays of sets, but this tends not to produce a very good visitor experience. Consider why people go to a LEGO show; typically, it’s families looking for a nice day out. LEGO trains add a great intrigue for kids (and adults) at LEGO shows because they move – especially if you can provide a LEGO railway for visitors to drive trains around themselves.

The great thing about LEGO is it’s tactile; children (and adults!) want to touch the bricks and play with it as soon as they see it. So, displays on tables form part of a LEGO show, but try and provide additional activities for your visitors. Here are a few ideas for LEGO activities I’ve seen at various shows in the past:

  • Minifigure hunt: provide families with a quest to find a set number of minifigures on your displays, each holding a letter. These letters can then form a word which solves the puzzle; some LEGO shows charge a small fee for this to fund prizes for winners drawn at random from the correct answers.
  • Speed builds: let the public get involved and run a LEGO speed build challenge. Simply provide a small number of the same LEGO set (we find Creator polybags works well), and time visitors’ times to build these. You can then provide a small prize for the winner each day (we typically have a childs’ – up to 12 years old – and adults’ leaderboard to make it more fair).
  • Demo area: if your venue has the space, consider creating a demo area and running a variety of demos of LEGO sets, building techniques or demo’ing Technic sets to the public. This is something we attempted in the first year of our Shildon show, but the number of visitors meant we had to rethink it!
  • Live builds: something I’ve seen at many LEGO shows is the live-building of a large LEGO set; this provides the public with an insight in to how the set is built, and is something visitors can return to throughout the day to see progress.
  • Race track: a great idea suggested by Brick Alley member Chris was the idea of a race course for remote control LEGO cars, providing the ability for visitors to pit their skills against each other.
  • Ninjago spinners play arena: at Shildon we’ll be trialling a Ninajgo Spinners play pit this year, allowing visitors to play with the latest range of Ninjago Spinners in a LEGO-built arena. Should be great (noisy!) fun, and it hasn’t proved too costly to add to our event, either.
  • LEGO train driving: fellow LNUR member Darren has started setting up a few loops of 9V LEGO track to allow visitors to play with LEGO trains.

5. Don’t just dump sets on tables

Slightly related to my point above; I think LEGO sets on display at shows can be great as it gives visitors something relatable (“oh, I’ve got that at home”, etc), but a good LEGO display should provide more than the set. Consider adding relevant scenery around the model, and creating a story line of what’s happening to the characters within it.

This creates a much better display, and leads to more interest from visitors who will spend longer looking at your display. On my own displays, I often also hide a trail of LEGO figures throughout the display as an additional point of interest for visitors. This also encourages visitors to look more closely at models, and appreciate how models are built more closely.

6. Don’t overcharge visitors

Pricing is something that can be hard to get right. 

Brick Alley is lucky to have a range of free entry venues in our region, meaning we’re able to put on free entry events for the public. Visitors then have a choice to spend their money on additional activities (such as £1 per sheet for minifigure hunts mentioned above).

7. Don’t get complacent

You’ve run a successful first LEGO show: congratulations! But don’t get complacent; think about what you could add to your next LEGO show to make it better for your exhibitors and visitors!

Listen to feedback from exhibitors and the public; a one-off complaint often means very little (and there are some things you can’t change, particularly when related to a specific venue), but if you start getting a number of complaints about a particular aspect of your show, try and do something about it. If you can’t do anything about it for whatever reason, it’s wise to publicly acknowledge that you’ve tried.

8. Don’t ignore social media

Social media is unavoidable these days; almost everyone seems to have a Facebook account, and Twitter and Instagram aren’t far behind.

Check with your venue about any plans they have for both promoting the event, and during the event itself. Some smaller venues may not have the resources to respond to visitor queries during public opening hours, so be prepared to step in and answer visitor queries yourself if needs be.

Here are a few golden rules for social media at LEGO shows:

  • Be transparent: try and be honest, particularly when visitors raise problems with the event. Acknowledge the problem, and be friendly: it helps to prevent escalation.
  • Be quick to reply: try and reply in a timely manner, particularly during the opening hours of your show. In the age of social media, people expect a quick response. Sometimes, it can be helpful to nominate someone specifically to monitor your show’s Twitter and Facebook accounts.

9. Don’t communicate well

One of my primary frustrations as an exhibitor at LEGO shows is the lack of timely communication from event organisers.

Consider the following:

  • Give people the information they need in a timely manner. It’s easy to overwhelm exhibitors with a barrage of information, but we’ve found drip-feeding it as they need specific bits of information works better. For example, send out venue details, dates and times early on to allow people to book hotels if needed, and plan their journey. Knowing the size of number of tables is also vital early on for many exhibitors who need to plan their displays. Nearer the time, you can send out a floor plan of where exhibitors are within the venue; the day before, send out a reminder email
  • Consider creating an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) document for exhibitors, and add new questions and answers when they’re raised.
  • Create a private Facebook group for exhibitors. This is a good way to introduce people to each other before the show, as well as providing a small community around the event, where members may be able to help each other out (and save you the effort of responding!), and organise collaboration for displays.
  • Use maps: a map of the venue’s location is good. A map of the venue’s location with areas marked for unloading and parking for exhibitors is even better!
  • Use apps: the Portuguese Fan Weekend had their own mobile phone app which contained all of the information for exhibitors they needed, from the daily schedule to maps of the various locations used. A good idea if you’re able to create one!

Summary

As I said, not all of these points will apply to every LEGO, but I hope they provide a useful guide!

If you have any other ideas on what makes a successful LEGO show, feel free to contact me – or, better yet – drop me a tweet @TheBricksMcGee.