Dealing with Last-Minute Entries in a Contest

I am running a speech contest for high schoolers this afternoon. This is my second year of organizing this contest. I created it from scratch for a non-profit organization as part of our strategy of engaging more young people.

Last year, we had 8 contestants. This year, it was looking like we’d have 10. On Thursday I got ready to prepare the programs, print name tags, etc. Then I heard from two teachers who have students who want to jump in – I ended up with 23 contestants, almost tripling our number from last year!

That’s why it’s 4 a.m., and I’m still up working on contest details. I had to rearrange the judging brackets, figure out how to coordinate extra rooms in the facility we’ll be using, track down the speech titles of all the contestants, find more timekeepers and another judge… I finished the program a few minutes ago, but I’ll have to wait to print it till morning when I can get bio details on the last couple judges.

In the morning, I’ll still need to print name tags, signs for the venue, the programs, the judges’ ballots, and certificates. The executive assistant is going to pick up extra snacks and water bottles tomorrow. My high school intern will hopefully be able to find more stopwatches and help me set up the extra judges’ tables and chairs on-site.

It’s thrown me into a tizzy the past couple days to figure out all these additional details at the end of a very busy week…we did have a registration deadline, but I hated to turn away eager participants. (Or maybe I just have a fond place in my heart for fellow procrastinators?) One of the teachers offered her students extra credit to participate, which made up a big chunk of the late registrants.

Any suggestions for how I can encourage earlier sign ups next year? What have you done with late RSVPs for a party or event?

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