The Events Wrangling Spectrum

What Is Events Wrangling?

Although there is no formal or widely-recognized definition for “events wrangling,” or events wrangler, the terms event manager or event coordinator could be used somewhat interchangeably with events wrangler. According to Cambridge Dictionaries, an event manager is “someone whose job is to plan and manage large events such as conferences, trade shows, and parties.”

Herd Quitter, CMRussell small croppedSince there’s no definition for events wrangling, let’s consider the individual words in that term. The word “events” has a commonly-understood meaning when used with the words manager or coordinator, as explained above by Cambridge Dictionaries. It’s the word “wrangling” that might be confusing to, or misinterpreted by, people new to the term.

The definition of wrangling which seemed most appropriate said wrangling is managing, controlling or herding. The “managing” part is the nuts and bolts of events wrangling. When you manage something, you have a checklist of things to do, equipment to arrange for, people to talk to, and bills to pay. Managing means paying attention to details and doing things right. The “controlling” component is making sure the event agenda moves along smoothly and that things happen on time and within budget. Controlling an event involves leadership and kind of a Type A personality attitude that gets things done in spite of problems that get in the way. But the truly interesting and rewarding aspect of wrangling, which requires great skill, a bit of luck, and doing the right thing, is the “herding.”

herding 2To me, herding implies intentionally working to get living creatures from a starting point to somewhere else you want them to be, with the route from point A to point B being somewhat important. You don’t have total control over the group you’re herding, so you nudge them along, do what you can to keep them on track, and try to get them to the final destination in good shape. If a member of the herd wanders off to someplace they’re not supposed to be, you need to bring them back to the rest of the herd so they all end up where they need to be.

When you’re wrangling people, you have to allow for personality differences, tendencies to do the unexpected, and personal priorities and perspectives which are likely to be much different from the priorities and perspectives of the events wrangler. The downside of those differences is that people may not do what the wrangler wants or expects. The upside is that the differences might cause serendipitous results, meaning they unexpectedly occur in a happy or beneficial way.

Herding cats is what I always think of when I read about herding living creatures, including people. If you haven’t seen this “Herding Cats” video, you owe it to yourself to watch it…

My definition of events wrangling includes more than what a typical event manager does. It includes things like:

  • Coming up with a new event to connect a community of like-minded people
  • Figuring out how to use events to improve the regional economy or the culture of an area
  • Being the one who makes a proposed event happen, instead of saying “we should do xxxxx” and never following through on that
  • Three other secret ingredients that I can’t reveal…

How Many People At An Event?

For the purposes of this post, an event is a gathering of people for some specific purpose, with the number of participants at an event spanning the spectrum from two individuals to hundreds of thousands of event goers. When you start getting into the range of a million people at one event, that’s a bit beyond wrangling…

So a meetup between two people at a coffee shop can be considered an event, as can:

  • Six women getting together for lunch
  • WordCamp USFourteen men in the Yale Whiffenpoofs singing in their weekly appearance at Mory’s
  • 150 people passionate about filmmaking technology coming together for a two-day FilmTechCamp unconference
  • 1000+ WordPress enthusiasts showing up for WordCamp US
  • 500,000+ sport aviation fans converging on Oshkosh, Wisconsin, USA for Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture fly-in and convention

Who Is At Events?

The people who show up for an event are those who feel their time will be well spent there. In some cases, they show up because their friends convinced them to come, their grandmother guilted them into showing up, or they felt some other obligation to attend. But the best case is when they hear about the event, they are so interested in the event that they can’t wait for it to happen.

Generally speaking, at an event you will find one or more of the following types of people:

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Classmates
  • Coworkers
  • Members of your organization
  • People with same vocation
  • People with same leisure interests
  • People who are hosting and running the event
  • Representatives of organizations who want event goers to listen to their pitch

Event Purpose?

Lakeview Hotel, Mackinac Island

Lakeview Hotel, Mackinac Island

Events have a plethora of purposes, including any of the following or a combination of them:


  • Have fun
  • Teambuilding
  • Accomplish work
  • Start new ventures
  • Enjoy a scenic location
  • Interact with like-minded people
  • Learn useful information or skills
  • Share useful information or skills
  • Build relationships and meet new people
  • Get required government or vocational certification
  • Generate profit for the organization putting on the event

Event Format?

The format and tone of an event can range from totally informal (t-shirt, shorts and sandals) to completely formal (expensive designer dresses and tuxedos) and anywhere in-between.

An event can be completely programmed months before it begins, so that you’ll know who the speakers will be, what the presentation topics are, and exactly what will happen when. At the other end of the spectrum are highly informal events like unconferences which use the open space technology method of conducting meetings.

paul bunyan minocquaIt could happen in one designated building, such as a breakfast meetup at Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty in Minocqua, Wisconsin, USA. An event might sometimes happen in several venues throughout a city, like the Traverse City Film Festival in Traverse City, Michigan, USA. Or it could happen in multiple cities around the world, like the International Space Apps Challenge.

[I haven’t been able to recruit a host organization yet for a Space Apps Challenge event yet, but I’ll keep working on that… — BW]

The event might be an in-person, face-to-face gathering. Some events are hybrid happenings that combine in-person with remote digital participation. Others events are totally digital, such as a group video call on Google Hangouts or Skype or a chat conversation in a Slack channel. The future will be bringing us events with more frequent and effective use of emerging technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality and holograms.

So Who Is An Events Wrangler?

automattic logoOne answer to the question, “Who is an events wrangler?” is a person at Automattic who “helps execute sponsorships and engagement activities at conferences, WordCamps, workshops, hackathons, and other special events.”

Another answer to that question is:

An events wrangler is anyone with a reasonable level of intelligence who sees value in making events happen and is willing to use their time and energy to help other people have a worthwhile time in a group setting.

Part of the purpose of this post is to say that many people could be events wranglers, but most people are not. I’m planning to do future posts about getting started as an events wrangler, how the internet makes it easier to be an events wrangler, and similar posts aimed at self-taught wranglers who want to expand their repertoire or people who want to learn the job by doing it.

Jeans And Jeeps

wrangler jeansWhilst working on this post, I developed a new goal for being a more complete events wrangler. It was totally obvious when one of the hits for a Google search was for Wrangler jeans.

I need to buy a pair of Wrangler jeans! 🙂

I’d also like to buy a Jeep Wrangler, but that’s unlikely to happen any time soon…

WordPress Jeep WranglerMaybe when Matt Mullenweg hires me, we can work out something regarding a WordPress-customized Jeep Wrangler. Jeep is headquartered in the Midwest, so it would be good for them to have representation on the West Coast, maybe in San Francisco. And since I currently live in Wisconsin, the Jeep with the big blue and white W on its doors (we’ll tell Jeep the W stands for Wrangler…) can go back and forth from the Midwest to the West Coast!


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