So after I have a critical mass of interested hosts, a few days or a week or more since I sent that initial contact, I feel ready to get to know my hosts and maybe do a bit of negotiating. Often many locations will want competing dates, so you will likely have to balance pros and cons of each.
I begin calling hosts to discuss the possibility of a visit, suggest the date I would like and see what they say. If they dont like it, I will likely have to check in with other hosts before giving an alternate date, because the calendar is full, unless of course some other show fell through and made a flexible gap. So I tell them I will get back to them, and then we often negotiate the final date by email, but by the end of the phone call I can at least guess if they are serious and competent, and that helps me immensely if I have to decide between two venues competing for the same date. I generally try to do as much correspondence as possible by phone. It is much more effective for getting to know your host, and I think it creates far fewer misunderstandings or surprises than emails.
The most important things to talk about by phone are the space (be sure to be very specific about what you do or dont want), talk about dates that are best for local schedule, ask them what presentation would be best for their community, and discuss funding if appropriate.
Heres a few tips about those things:
I have found that class-rooms are the best spaces, or at least the most flexible and reliable. I try really hard to avoid auditoriums, basements, and spaces with loud noises (like industrial air vents) or too much distraction (like a food court). Sometimes novelty venues are awesome (ie movie theater in a mall), sometimes they have terrible acoustics or no lights or some other obnoxious problem (ie Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts), I am becoming more and more cautious about saying yes to unusual spaces.
I am generally not very flexible on dates – if its going to screw up my planned route and cause me to change a lot of other dates, I just say “Sorry, lets try again next time.” On the other hand, I will try to twist everything around if I find out about a really awesome event thats happening one state over – sometimes special events are the defining moments of the tour and you should never let a good one slip past.
I ask hosts to describe the most important issues in their community, then take the time to describe the highlights of each type of presentation, and we decide together what folks will appreciate the most – this is a very good way to begin building a positive relationship with your host.
And when speaking with college students, I am prepared to walk them through the funding process step-by-step. For many hosts, “Bring the Beehive” is their first-ever organizing effort, and they need help. If you can coach them to reach out to other student and community groups to co-sponsor and find out about funding hearings asap, then you will have a good event and they will have an empowering learning experience. Sometimes hosts need advice on things like finding co-sponsors and promotion – dont bend over backwards to make the show happen if a host cant do it on their own, but its good to be available for guidance. This will further develop a good and lasting relationship. If the host needs help finding a venue, thats not a good sign, you might want to drop that one.
Another note about funding: I never turn anyone down based on funding alone (and I will sometimes let hosts know that so that they dont get freaked out by the $1000+ price tag). If they cant provide funding AND they are far out of the way, thats a different story, but even if a student group or community organization along my route is totally broke I will visit them anyway. The cash donations may make it worth it, or the group my be able to bring you back with some money later, or you might meet someone really awesome at that event. Dont get caught up in chasing after money too much, if you just keep pursuing all your options, it will come!