Clear Goals Matter

Yogi Berra, "If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else."

Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might wind up someplace else.” For the legendary slugger, having clear goals led him to the 13 World Series wins, three American League MVP awards, and the Baseball Hall of fame, to name only a few of his many achievements.

For event planners, having clear, thoughtful goals makes all the difference as they set out to create meaningful author events. For too long, broad goals such as “encouraging literacy” or “supporting the arts” prompted many librarians and campus programmers to choose titles for Common Reads programs that seemed more thought-laden than thought-provoking. But with a new generation of savvy, demanding readers, it’s more important than ever to identify and isolate how our programming best relates to our readers’ experiences in order to create solid program branding and loyal audiences and to ensure institutional support for years to come.

It’s more important than ever to identify and isolate how our programming best relates to our readers’ experiences.

Consulting with over 1,500 venues each year, I often gently encourage programmers to think less about general goal statements (i.e, this event will be a success!) and more about specific, goal-oriented questions that will help lead to a desired outcome (i.e, how will this program become a touchstone for public interest and connection in my community, campus, organization?). One useful tool in this effort is the time-tested SMART method:

SMAT: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-based

Specific: Whether you’ve already chosen a title/author or are still wading through a long list, set clear goals that are specific to your readers. Then write them down! One venue I’m working with in Illinois has chosen “Difficult Conversations” as an important element of their seasonal author series, drawing suggestions from their patrons (addiction, immigration, death and dying, religious tolerance) as the launching point for their selections. The specific goal behind the topic may have been “to be more inclusive with our audience about our speaking topics” or possibly “to produce an author series that will resonate on a personal level with our audience.” If you can reference a specific goal on paper, it becomes much easier to guide the course of the program over time.

Measurable: It’s vital to set expectations that go beyond how many bodies you can get into a room and to instead look at measurable, big-picture value that your programming creates. A university summer reading program in Georgia focused on raising awareness of poverty in America and set out to sign up 100 new volunteers. The response exceeded their expectations and helped to solidify their funding for the next four years! It’s fun to report event attendance. But reporting measurable impact on the program’s overarching goals can go a long, long way.

Attainable: The quickest way to kill a goal is to set unreasonable expectations. Program Coordinators should set goals that they can meet while working within the constraints of their normal day-to-day operations. Often times, we’re hesitant to set clear goals for fear of not meeting our commitment. Or we’ll set non-specific goals with deadline commitments far into the future so we’re sure to meet them. But setting challenging goals — and missing benchmarks — is an important part of learning what our teams are capable of doing. Program Coordinators will learn quickly to identify and buy into goals that are attainable and to voice concern when they’re not.

By not shying away from polarizing topics, libraries and colleges around the country are transforming their community members from bystanders to empowered citizens.

Relevant: It’s one thing to get people reading. It’s something else to get readers to care about a book and start conversations, which will always lead to increased patronage, involvement, and participation. Often the easiest way to create engagement is to develop programming around a timely issue or topic. In one of the most divisive and contentious political seasons in memory, dozens of the venues we collaborate with are bringing stump-speech, ripped-from-the-headlines concerns to the forefront of their author event programming. By not shying away from polarizing topics, libraries and colleges around the country are transforming their community members from bystanders to empowered citizens.

Time-bound: Set a timeframe for long-term goals and incremental benchmarks. It’s often easiest to start at the end and work your way backward, remembering to include buffer time for the unexpected. If you include the team members who will actually be doing the work in your planning process, you’ll have greater insight as to how long a task will actually take and they’ll feel empowered to help you overcome obstacles. Once everybody has weighed in, you can send out specific timeline goals that everybody has agreed to meet and work to keep one another on track if the timeline starts to veer off course.

Fortunately, all of us at Books In Common make it our business to not only support your goals by securing an author that will meet and exceed them, but also to help you at every step of the process as you work toward long-term outcomes. As a clearinghouse for wonderful programming and funding ideas, along with success stories and lessons learned, we can share with event planners the necessary tools, innovations, and cost-saving strategies to make your next program both an instant home run and a record-breaking franchise.

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