Creating Wow Factors

Every two years the world is treated to an evening of incredible displays of artistry, creative combinations of dance, costumes and music and an impressive parade of nations. A few nights ago, the Rio Olympics kicked off in typical fashion with the Opening Ceremony. Fireworks, a substantial projection system turning the floor into an artistic canvas, lights, costumes, music, dance. As with every Opening Ceremony, I sat and thought “wow” multiple times throughout the course of the evening.

Wow factors. A quick Google search leads to this definition: “qualities or features that are extremely impressive.” No matter the size of the event you are planning, it’s possible to include your own wow factors throughout. While it’s safe to say 99.9% of the events you plan won’t be to the extreme of an Olympic Opening Ceremony watched by millions throughout the world, you can still wow your audience in memorable ways.

As you plan your event, consider these two questions when you brainstorm wow factors you can implement:

  1. Is this worth the time, effort and cost it will take to execute? Recently, the Democratic National Convention concluded with their usual balloon drop. However, this year they amped up their tradition by dropping a colossal 100,000 balloons. While it was impressive, the event planner in me immediately wondered, “Who has to pop all of those balloons after the convention concludes?” The time, effort and cost involved to inflate, hang, release and deflate these balloons were big feats. The spectacle was heavily talked about on social media. Was it worth it? While I can’t speak for the convention, I can say as a spectator I was completely fascinated as the balloons continually fell from the ceiling. I can’t say the same for the people in charge of popping all of them, however!
  2. What is my purpose for including this wow factor moment? I went to a conference that launched with a marching band going up and down the auditorium aisles. The goal was to get the crowd excited about the event from the very first moment the session began. Did it work? With the entire crowd on their feet, it definitely gave the conference an opening momentum that carried throughout the event.

Moments that make your audience say “wow” can go a long way in encouraging a guest to return. Each idea doesn’t have to be bigger and better – as an event planner this can become a huge distraction if your time is consumed by creating a few big moments. By providing new and different ideas throughout your event and ones that follow, the conference momentum can be great and leave your crowd wondering what might happen next!

Five Steps to Finishing Well

After the final guest is gone, the last box has been packed and the lights are turned out, event planners can breathe a sigh of relief and take a few moments to savor the best moments from the past few days.  However, once the event is over, a planner’s job is not complete.  There are still a few things needed in order to finish strong.

Here are five steps to help you wrap up your event well:

  1. Review your financials. Keep good records before, during and after your event.  By tracking expenses, you can be prepared to examine all of the bills you receive for accuracy.  Read the details – you may be charged for something you did not request.  If you see something unexpected, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification.  Pay all of the bills on time.  This will further a successful relationship between you and your various vendors.
  2. Send thank-you correspondence. Handwritten notes are a great touch to your keynote speakers and special guests, your venue coordinators and volunteers.  Emails can be sent as a follow-up for event attendees.  Make sure this is done promptly after the event is over.
  3. Follow-up with your event staff. If possible, gather them all together for a recap meeting.  Ask them specific questions relating to the event, as well as how they personally feel after the event.  Because you cannot be in all places at once, your staff are your eyes and ears on the ground.  Use their experiences from the event to assist you as you plan for future ones.
  4. Review surveys and other attendee comments from the event. Follow-up with any guests if their remarks warrant additional conversation.  Don’t take criticism as an attack against you and your planning skills.  Look at it constructively; some things are completely out of your control, while other things may need to be reevaluated for future events. Take good notes on what worked and what didn’t.  Evaluate everything from start to finish.
  5. If your event will happen again, begin working with your vendors to get potential dates on the calendar. If you are already penciled in for following years, begin the contract writing process for the nearest event if necessary.

Finishing well is vital to a successful event.  Finishing well builds positive relationships with your vendors, leaves a good impression with your event attendees and might encourage them to register again.  It makes your volunteers and other staff feel appreciated.  Finishing well helps you effectively prepare for future events you will lead.

Finish well.  And then, sit back, relax and have that cup of coffee with no strings attached.

What about you?  What other steps do you find important to finishing well?


Early Bird Registration

Commitmentphobia.  The fear of commitment.  It’s a phenomenon plaguing our churches, small groups and for some, our very own events.  Getting an RSVP for a party a week away can prove a daunting task, much less registration for events months away.  This is a planner’s nightmare!  Pre-registration is essential for adequate preparation; early registration is an added bonus.

Most events will have a registration deadline.  These deadlines will vary based on the type of event you are hosting.  However, if you can provide an “early bird” registration date (prior to the general deadline), this can benefit your planning process.  For many events, numbers determine everything.  By asking people to register ahead of time, you can gauge overall interest, know whether the event should go forward or be cancelled and help in general planning.  For example, you may realize a larger event space, more break-out rooms or a larger hotel block are needed.  If the venue has a minimum financial responsibility that must be meet, you may be able to adjust that based on early interest.

So, how do you get people to commit to an event early in a world full of “commitment-phobes”?  Offer incentives for registering by a certain date.  These can include:

  • A cheaper program fee
  • Preferred seating in large group sessions
  • Meet and greet with the keynote speaker
  • First choice of housing options
  • A separate, expedited check-in line on the day of the event
  • A special gift (t-shirt, tote bag, notebook, etc.)

Make sure you market these early registration promotions well.  Email blasts, social media campaigns and mailers can provide buzz about your event registration.  If prospective attendees see an added benefit to registering early, they may jump at the opportunity to participate.  The more commitment you can get in advance, the more you can fully prepare for your upcoming event.  More commitment can also spur greater event attendance. The more people are talking, the more people will be interested!

Do you have incentive ideas for early registration?  If so, comment below!


Meeting Room Setups

You’ve planned the perfect event, selected the perfect location and now you have to turn in your meeting room configurations to your site.  How do you decide what is best and what do all of the configuration types mean? Here is a quick guide to the site lingo that should help you as you work on your details.

  • Theater:  Appropriate for large sessions and short lectures that do not require extensive note taking. This is a convenient setup to use before breaking into discussion groups because chairs can be moved.
  • Classroom:  A desirable setup for medium size lectures. This configuration requires a relatively large room. Tables provide attendees with space for spreading out materials and taking notes.
  • U-shape:  Appropriate for groups of fewer than 40 people. These are best for interaction with a leader seated at the head of the setup. Audiovisual equipment is usually set up at the open end of the seating.
  • Rounds:  Generally used for meals and sessions involving small group discussions. A five foot round table seats eight people comfortably. A six foot round table seats 10 people comfortably.
  • Reception:  Creating an environment for networking with others by leaving the room open typically with stations of food and beverage and seating for about a quarter of your attendees.
  • Hollow Square or Conference:  Appropriate for interactive discussions and note taking sessions for fewer than 25 people.
  • Boardroom:  A lot of facilities have special rooms for small board meetings with a single boardroom table comfortably seating 10-14 people typically equipped with full audiovisual capabilities, a writing board or flip chart.

Remember you might need to specify what you are thinking when you are making arrangements with your location site (as most sites will block space to accommodate the numbers you are requesting in a theater setup) to ensure you are getting the space needed to accommodate your event.

If Only: Preparing for Future Events

“If only I had a picture of that great activity we did at last year’s retreat…”

Have you ever had this thought when preparing for an event?  You think of things you wish you had as you work on promotional materials, but the opportunity to actually have those has passed.  While organizing an upcoming event, it’s hard to fathom looking ahead to the next event, but, with a little thought, you can save yourself a few “if only” moments down the road.

Here are several ideas you can do during your current event to prepare for future ones:

  1. Take pictures. This is a simple thing to do and a great way to utilize a few volunteers who may be gifted photographers.  Photograph everything – registration, large and small group sessions, candid moments, meals, recreation, free time.  You never know how you might be able to use these photographs in future promotional material.
  2. Get video footage. As with pictures, video everything.  It’s always better to have too much footage from which to draw.  Once the event is over, you can’t recreate these moments.  In addition, by videoing various parts of the retreat, you can see things you might not have noticed because you were in a different spot when they took place.  For example, you might see an easier way to set-up your registration line or find a different way to arrange chairs in your meeting rooms.  It’s similar to an instant replay in sports, only you look at it after the event and can change things for the future.
  3. Interview event attendees. During the event, select several attendees to interview about the actual event.  Ask specific questions about their favorite moments, the accommodations, what they have learned and why others should come in the future.  If there a few people who have had significant life changing moments over the course of the retreat, video their stories.  Having footage of these people, in the moment, at the event location, will carry great weight with potential future guests.
  4. Survey attendees. In addition to gaining information about event details (accommodations, dining facilities, speakers, music, sessions, etc.), ask attendees general questions about their overall experience.  Use their responses as testimonials in promotional material for future retreats.
  5. Observe other events. If other events coincide with yours at the same property, take note of various ways they utilize facilities and incorporate the setting into their programs.  Don’t be afraid to ask their leadership about various ways they program their events.

It is important for all of your guests to sign a waiver giving permission to be photographed or videoed.  This can be included during the registration process.  A simple statement noting that by registering for this event, you acknowledge and agree photos and videos taken may be used in promotional material should suffice.  In securing written testimonials, you can include a statement guests can check regarding whether or not their comments may be published.

What are some ways you prepare for future events during a current one?  Comment below!


Ask the Expert: Booking a New Conference

With close to 100 years of experience in the hospitality industry among their team, I knew where to turn for “Ask the Expert” advice on booking a new conference.  I recently asked the sales staff at Ridgecrest Conference Center a simple question:  What is the best advice you can give a group booking a new conference?  Their answers were very insightful.

Here is what they had to say:

  • “If I could narrow down a good piece of advice for a new group it would be a site visit.  The experience is good for the planner and the salesperson.  Hopefully it begins a lasting relationship.  Looking and walking the property provides the planner much more than a website can offer.  A site visit introduces the planner to many ideas and options in housing, meeting space, dining hall and recreation.” – Danny Dalton, at Ridgecrest for 35 years, in sales department for 13
  • “When planning a new conference, it is key to surround yourself with a team of volunteers that have multiple gifts and talents that will help you execute the planning!  Ask a lot of questions, gather resources and ideas and expect the unexpected.  Above all things, stay focused on why you are having the conference in the first place!” – Annette Frisby, serving in hospitality for 22 years, at Ridgecrest for 18
  • “Booking a new conference for a ministry can be tricky, so finding the right place and setting is key.  You want it to be a place your attendees truly want to travel to and a place where the staff understands the goal of the event.  The facility needs to understand this is a new conference and will be willing to help the planner in any way possible to help encourage attendance.” – Angela Beattie, 31 years in hotel industry
  • “My advice would be to plan a site visit.  There are so many details you can cover in a 2-hour visit you would never be able to experience just by looking at the website.  For example, how long does it take to walk from the hotel rooms to the meeting rooms?  Does the campus feel safe and walkable?  What kind of hangout spaces are available around campus?  More importantly, how do the staff treat you?  You can book an event at a 5-star resort with beautiful hotel rooms and incredible amenities, but a rude and unhelpful staff will mar your entire experience.  Experiencing excellent customer service in a Christ-like environment makes the difference between a good retreat and a great retreat.” – Lindsay Sloas, at Ridgecrest for 9 years, in sales department for 3

As you can see, location and surrounding yourself with the right team are great places to start when booking a conference.  By conducting a site visit, you can also see firsthand the event space, hotel accommodations, dining facilities and more.

Thanks for the great advice, Ridgecrest team!  If you are interested in booking a new conference with them, you can find more information at