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 ridgecrestconferencecenter.org.

 

Choosing Onstage Participants

You’ve got the perfect giveaway prizes.  You’ve got a fun, interactive game to play onstage.  You’ve got a great illustration using a few of your guests.  Now, all you need are participants to take part.  In a group of any size, it is inevitable you will have both extroverts and introverts, those that can’t wait to be in the spotlight and those who avoid eye contact at all costs to not be called upon.  So, how do you get people onstage to participate without causing embarrassment or a sudden rush of your guests to the restroom?

Here are a few suggestions for choosing attendees to participate in contests, giveaways or illustrations:

  • For your introverted guests (ideas great for doorprizes):
    • Paper Under the Chair: Prior to the meeting, tape a sheet of paper underneath a few chairs.  When you need participants, have the guests stand up and look under their chairs.  If there is something under their chair, they get to come to the front. If you are pressed for time, you could also place a sticker on a certain page of random event programs and call those from the stage.
    • Who Traveled the Farthest?: Have the audience stand.  Call out various distances, such as “Who traveled more than 50 miles to be here?”  If it applies to the guests, they keep standing; those who traveled less sit down.  Keep calling out greater distances until you only have one person remaining.  Other questions could include shortest distance, years attending the event, age of guests, length of marriage (for a couples retreat), etc.
    • Rock, Paper, Scissors: Play a large game of rock, paper, scissors with your crowd.  Winners play winners and losers sit-down until two contestants remain.  While this is more interactive, it is very non-threatening, easy to play and gets people moving.  (Just be sure to signify if you play your sign on the count of three or after you say three!)
  • For your extroverted guests:
    • On the Body Scavenger Hunt: This is a great idea to get contestants because you choose whether or not to take part.  From the stage, call out items guests may have with them.  These could include a picture of your pet, dental floss, a movie ticket stub, a text from your mom, a black sock, a penny from the 1990s, etc.  The first person to come up to the stage with that item in hand gets to be a participant.
    • Simply Ask: If you need guests for a game or for an illustration, you can always ask for volunteers.  You can take it up a notch by choosing the guest who volunteers with the best dance moves, the craziest outfit or the one who shows the most enthusiasm.
    • Choose Ahead: If you know your guests personally and know someone wouldn’t mind being onstage to play a game, place a sticker on his/her nametag.   Call out that sticker (or stickers) from the stage.

It’s always safest to choose someone who wants to participate rather than someone called on randomly.  For the introverts, they will enjoy the experience a lot more if they know they can simply be a spectator.  For the extroverts, they will enjoy the challenge of trying to be chosen.

What about you?  What are some ideas you have for getting participants onstage?  Comment below!

 

Grace for the Moment

 

The sound system breaks.  The printer ink runs out.  The speaker’s flight is cancelled.  The catering is late.  The event programs are still in the home office.  The registration line is out the door.  The attendees are complaining about the temperature of the meeting room.  The bathrooms are backed up.  The event signage is portrait, and the sign holders are landscape.  The power goes out.  The battery light on your phone is red, and you can’t find the charger.

Have you ever experienced any of these event frustrations?  You’ve planned.  You’ve prepared.  You’ve organized.  Yet, there’s one thing that creeps up unexpectedly (or in many cases, lots of issues arise), and the way you react can have a domino effect over the course of your event.

Here are three things I have learned throughout my time as an event planner:

  1. Expect the unexpected.  When dealing with people, places and technology, there are so many things out of your control.  When unexpected issues arise (and they undoubtedly will), pause and think logically about how best to take your next steps.  Your team will follow how you react to the situation. If you are calm, cool and collected, your team will follow suit.  If you show a sense of frustration or panic, it’s likely your team will respond in the same way.  While you cannot predict the unexpected, you can expect it will happen.
  2. Don’t let a surprise ruin your event.  Embrace creative ways you can respond to the unplanned situation.  Once I was at an outdoor concert when the power went out.  What could have been a quick cancellation with angry concertgoers turned into a very personal, acoustic session with the band sitting on the edge of the stage that was unforgettable. See how you can turn the unexpected into something even better.  Like the concert I attended, it might just turn out to be one of the most memorable moments of your event.
  3. Pray for grace for the moment.  Perhaps the most important thing you can pray for yourself before an event is that you will have grace for each and every moment.  Pray you will react to every situation with grace and love, kindness and gentleness. Moments will undoubtedly come that test your patience – either with a guest, a team member or the event facility staff.  Pray others will see Christ through you in every encounter you have.

When it comes to event planning, you can’t control many outside circumstances.  However, you can control how you react to them.  By preparing yourself to expect the unexpected, embrace surprises and show grace in each moment, you will find the event much more enjoyable!

Ask the Expert – Setting the Stage with Lights

When you meet Jen Baker, it’s very quick to see she has a passion for stage lighting.  She serves as the Lighting Designer at Ridgecrest Conference Center and has been involved with technical services for eleven years.  Lighting is more than a job for her – in fact, when I asked her how she views her work with lighting as a ministry, she said:

One of the first things God created was light.  I have always taken that as without light we cannot see the beauty of the Master Artist and His creation.  Light has the power to illuminate, sculpt and create an atmosphere.  Lighting is a tool that can be used to help break down the barriers during worship and create a safe place for people to enter in worship.  My place as a lighting designer is to visually interpret the message being communicated, whether in song or spoken word.

Needless to say, Jen knows lights and knows them well.  I recently spoke with her about elements of lighting for events of various sizes.  Here are some of the highlights I took from our discussion:

  • Utilize color schemes to create the atmosphere/mood of your session. You can create a warm, cozy feeling with warm tones such as soft white, amber, oranges, purples and reds.  High energy effects can be created through yellows, oranges, greens, whites, light blues and pinks.  For a slower, more intimate time, utilize blues, pinks, purples, reds and some greens.  When in doubt, always start with blue or white.  It is a good, neutral color that works well for any type of atmosphere.
  • If you have a contemporary band, a few lights in the right place with some uplighting and backlight can give you the same experience as a big stage, in a more intimate setting.  If you just have a speaker, lights across the back wall, on either side of the projector screen or around the room can make the room less boring, more intimate and give your audience something to look at.
  • If you have banners or a small stage design, adding lights to highlight can make it pop. It will draw attention from the first moment your guests enter.
  • You don’t have to use only stage lighting to enhance your set – you can use lamps, LED rope lights or candles that change colors.
  • Always be strategic in where you place your lighting or what you are highlighting. You can get away with fewer fixtures by doing this.
  • Don’t let it get you down if someone doesn’t like the color choice or effect you choose. You will never please everyone.  Individual audience members differ in their sensitivity.
  • If you have a worship leader, try to work with them and help create an atmosphere that enhances their song choices.
  • When it comes to power, make sure you get enough extension cords to make everything neat. Always buy black.  Nothing is worse than bright orange extension cords running across the front of a room.
  • The most important thing of all: Gaff Tape!  Do not use duct tape to tape down cords.  It leaves residue; gaff tape will not.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Jen, it’s that you can do a ton of creative things with lighting to enhance your event space.  You don’t have to be an expert in technology to incorporate basic additions with lights.  While we will leave the large event spaces to the professionals, you would be surprised what a few lights and a little practice can do!

 

 

Ask the Expert: Ordering the Perfect T-Shirt

This week we continue our “Ask the Expert” blog series.  I recently discussed apparel giveaways for events with Royleane Allen, CEO of 413 Strengthgear, Inc.  413 Strengthgear was established in 2003, and Royleane has 15+ years of experience in the industry.  She offered excellent advice on ordering T-shirts for both the experienced and new event planner!

  1. “This is my first time ordering T-shirts to give participants at my event.  What general tips can you give me?”
    The first thing to consider is the demographic of people attending your event so your vendor can design and source the best product for your attendees.  A couple of questions could be:  Are attendees mainly male or female, what is the age range and what type of event are you hosting (ministry, outdoors, entertainment, etc.)?  Knowing these elements will allow your vendor to help narrow down a design catered towards your audience.
  1. “I’m not a graphic designer by nature – how do I know what color T-shirt to order?”
    There is not a right or wrong when choosing a T-shirt color.  We typically show the trending colors for that season and then go back to what type of consumer will be purchasing or receiving the T-shirts.  Figuring out gender, age group, style preference, etc., help determine what will be best.  For example, someone 50+ might like a more classic color such as heather grey or navy.  Right now someone in their 20s might like colors currently trending such as mint, mango or island reef.
  1. “I forgot to ask for T-shirt sizes in my registration process.  Any advice on how to order when I don’t know what sizes I specifically need?”
    For an adult event, when ordering unisex T-shirts, a very general retail ratio would be a breakdown like S-1, M-2, L-2, XL-2, XXL-1.
  1. “I have a limited budget.  What are the best cost-saving measures when it comes to designing T-shirts?”
    T-shirt pricing is based upon the garment style, the number of imprint locations, the number of imprint colors in each location and the quantity being ordered.  To help lower cost, limit your number of imprint locations and colors.  The garment style plays a large part of the cost, based on what brand and type you are ordering.  Ask what the best price point garment is that your vendor carries, and they can direct you accordingly.
  1. “Other than T-shirts, what are your top three non-apparel giveaways you recommend for event attendees?”
    Our top three non-apparel giveaways are coozies, hand sanitizer and pens.  Other close follow-ups would be sunglasses, chapstick and lanyards.

It’s amazing to see Royleane’s passion for her job.  It’s definitely more than just designing an awesome T-shirt!  She sees camp/conference merchandise as opportunities to open doors that may spark conversations about an experience at camp so others may have the opportunity to go and experience them, as well!  What might happen if we decided to think of our conference giveaways as more than just something to hand out, but rather an opportunity for attendees to later share about life change?

Ask the Expert: Making the Most of Your Snack Breaks

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the course of my life, it’s this: Never be afraid to ask for help. That is the premise for the next series of blog posts, “Ask the Experts”. Regardless of your event planning situation, it’s likely someone has experienced it before. Seeking help from outside sources can not only save you time and energy, but it can also help your event run smoothly.

Catering snack breaks can be a daunting task for new event planners. I recently had the privilege of discussing a few catering questions with Marcus White, Food Service Director at Ridgecrest Conference Center. Marcus has been in the hospitality and food service industry for over 30 years. He offered great advice on catering snack breaks.

  1. “I’ve been asked to plan snack breaks throughout my event. Quite frankly, I’m nervous. What general tips can you give to ease my fears?”
    Typically, snack breaks are the easiest type of service to provide for you and your group. I would recommend that you let us (the catering provider) know the time of day you are looking for, how many guests you plan to have in your group and the general types of items you want. If you know your group is mostly ladies (or mostly men or children) for example, we can help you create the best options for you from our menu.
  2. “My event attendance could be anywhere 50 to 100. How do I prepare when I’m not sure how many people to expect?”
    This question is often the toughest for an event planner to decide. Each group is different, but typically we recommend you guarantee your count on the higher end of the range. We understand you want to be good stewards as you guess your counts, but truly there is nothing more embarrassing or frustrating to the guests themselves, the group’s leadership and even to our own team when a group guesses low and we run out of food. This is one reason why we have made our snacks and breaks menu mostly individually wrapped and sealed items so if there are any leftovers, some groups may choose to keep some of those items and use them at a later time during their event.
  3. “I’m afraid I won’t have enough food and/or drinks. Are there standards as far as food and beverage quantities to prepare?”
    That is a great question. There are standards we use based on our past experiences with similar groups with similar menu choices. If you let us know what your group number maximum is and what you want to guarantee for, we will use that experience and help make sure there are plenty of snacks. Most of the time we are very close to accurate amounts and, of course, we can often supply more items if more guests show up than expected or guaranteed.
  4. “I know a lot of people have food allergies and some people are just picky. How can I make sure everyone is satisfied?”
    The best way to make sure that most guests are satisfied is to offer a little more of a variety as opposed to just one item for a snack break. The greater the variety the more likely that most everyone can at least find something. You can take a look at our Snack Break Menu for a few ideas: Snack and Breaks Service.

While providing food for breaks may seem like a big task, a little thought-filled planning can put your fears at ease. A big thanks to Marcus White for sharing some of his expertise in this area!