A New Take on Gift Exchanges

White elephant Christmas parties. Dirty Santa gift exchanges. Secret Santa gifts. I’m sure at some point you’ve been invited to take part in something like this and might have even fretted over what type of gift to bring. Is it in the price range? Is it too tacky? Not tacky enough? Does it fit the person you are buying for? Will everyone like it?

Assorted colored shopping bags including yellow, orange, red, pink, blue and green on a white background

Recently I came across a new idea on gift exchanges called a “My Favorite Things” party. While this idea can work for Christmas parties, it can also be a fun fellowship idea for a smaller women’s retreat. In addition, this is a great “get-to-know-you” activity.

Here’s how to host a “My Favorite Things” fellowship gift exchange:

  • Each participant brings five gifts – each item the same. The gift should represent one of the participant’s favorite things. Set a per gift price limit (very low) prior to the event. These gifts can include anything from a favorite type of candy or cooking item to a favorite type of household essential or a handmade item. (For example, if one of my favorites things is a certain type of pen, I would bring five of them to exchange.)
  • Place these gifts in a gift bag and have all participants sit them on a gift table.
  • Each participant writes her name on five slips of paper and places them in a basket.
  • In order to exchange the gifts, each participant will come up and tell about her gift – why it’s a favorite thing, what it means to her, etc.
  • The participant will then draw five names from the basket, and each of these people will receive their gift.
  • So, you bring five of your favorite things and leave with five gifts representing the favorite things of others!

In order to make this event a success, you must send out detailed instructions for your guests prior to the event. As with many women’s retreats, a lot of attention is given to the “cute” details, so include a fun invitation to this in your registration material. Decorate your fellowship room in a similar fashion. (As a side note, this can serve as a retreat activity or as a stand-alone event.)

As gifts are exchanged, women will undoubtedly learn new things about others in their group. And the greatest thing about this type of gift exchange is that you don’t have to worry about what someone else might want – you bring gifts you like instead!

Newsjacking and How To Do It For Your Event

The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Scott defines newsjacking as “inserting your ideas into a breaking news story by writing a real-time blog post or shooting a video to interest reporters and generate coverage.”

Here’s an example of what this might look like.  Imagine you are organizing an event for women in leadership. Then, on the morning news you see a big story on the strain childcare costs are placing on women and their families. Now is your chance to write a blog post, or send out a twitter message, or record a quick video interview with an informed response to the topic.  Your PR person/team can help you get this response to appropriate people, like a local news team or radio station.  You help provide great local information on an emerging story/topic and your event gets some recognition.

For any event you can brainstorm topics that might be good newsjacking possibilities.  Take the time to talk about it with your event team, and make a list together. The key to newsjacking is great information and speed of response.  A news cycle doesn’t last very long, at the most 24-48 hours. You need to notice a related topic, produce high quality content, and get it out there rapidly.

Author David Scott calls this “developing a real time mindset”.  He points out that most businesses only draw from past or future experiences, and that those who jump in to the happening now arena can set themselves apart and enjoy some nice advertising and attention.

Try this out, and be willing to fail and learn from your mistakes, you’ll improve over time and you’ll be developing a marketing tool that not many businesses have grasped.  Have you ever newsjacked? Please tell us how and what happened.

Simple Thank You Gifts

Volunteers are often a vital part of your conference or event team. From registration to greeting guests, from providing directions to selling merchandise, volunteers can fill important voids for various tasks.

While there are larger incentives you can provide for volunteers (discounted program and housing fees, free t-shirts and other merchandise, etc.), there are ways you can encourage your team throughout the event, as well.

The last time I volunteered at a conference, each day I was given a little “something” thanking me for my service. These were very small, low cost items (typically a food item of some sort) with a clever note attached, left for me at the location I was working.

While these “thank you” gifts might take some time to assemble, many of them can be done well ahead of the conference. The time and effort put forth to create these little extras can help encourage your volunteers as they work throughout the conference. As you prepare these, you can purchase individually wrapped candy/snacks or put unwrapped items in a plastic bag sealed with the note.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Thanks for being an EXTRAordinary volunteer! (Extra gum)
  • You are a LIFESAVER! Thank you! (Lifesaver candy)
  • We MINT to tell you how much we appreciate you! (Any type of mints)
  • It’s been such a TREAT to have you as a volunteer! (Works with any type of snack)
  • Without your help we would have fallen to PIECES! Thank you! (Reese’s Pieces candy)
  • We would be in KNOTS without you! (Bag of pretzels)
  • It’s “o-FISH-al”! You are a great volunteer! (Bag of Goldfish crackers or Swedish Fish candy)
  • Volunteers like you are worth 100 GRAND! (100 Grand candy bars)
  • Just POPPING in to say thanks for all your hard work! (Bag of popcorn)
  • It’s been MOUNDS of fun serving with you! (Mounds candy bars)

Simple yet thoughtful gifts can go a long way in showing your appreciation. Let your creativity shine as you prepare these small thank you items for your event volunteers.

Add Value To Your Faith Based Event with Community

What if the local community that will surround your next event was holding people, churches and organizations that would be incredibly valuable to those attending your event?  I think it is!  Here’s how:

  • Local People can bring practical experience and or expertise to your event.  Their stories are as varied as their fingerprints.  Identify your list of qualifications and start asking around at local universities, organizations and churches.  “Who is active in this area of work/ministry/teaching?”  You’ll find a few names and can begin doing some research on them.
  • Local Organizations.  For and not for profit organizations exist for particular goals.  Do any of those goals line up with your next event?  Think outside the box.  Perhaps a particular organization makes and sells construction equipment, so you get ready to cross them off your list.  But looking at their website you see they have a vibrant community involvement and build a Habitat House every year, with 100% involvement from their employees.  Or, maybe they have an expertise in training that they could bring to your attendees.  Dig a little!
  • Local Church leaders and members can talk about particular issues and how their church is handling them.  What has worked and what hasn’t in local community outreach, member discipleship and children’s ministry?  These churches have stories of faith, struggle, loss and success.  Take a look at their web page and schedule a phone conversation with a pastor or leader if you think the church might fit into your next event.

Why look locally?  You could find these resources and “fly them in” right? Well, yes.  And sometimes you need to.   But we suggest you consider this local option, especially if more than half of your event guests live close to the event location.  If so, you can help them create connections that will benefit them long term.  Another plus?  Local experts, trainers and organizations don’t need lodging, or a travel expense account. It’s also incredibly helpful to see organizations, churches and people from one local area talk about the same issue from different sides.  The context it creates is very multi-faceted and real. Enjoy the treasure hunt of looking locally first.  And share you stories of success with us!

Live Polling Your Audience

I recently read an article by Dan Schwabel entitled “How Millennials See Meetings Differently.” In this article, he highlights ways to better engage this generation (born between 1980 and 2000) in meetings. Schwabel says, “While older
professionals seek the traditional meeting
model, millennials are looking
for something more interactive. Instead of a speaker giving a
presentation for an hour, they
would rather have the majority
of that hour be Q&A. This is a
generation that wants to be heard
and have conversations instead
of listening to a presentation
straight through.”

Schwabel suggests incorporating live polling as a way to actively engage this younger generation. He says, “73% of millennials are interested in being part of live polls during event sessions. They are eager to have their votes count and to be part of presentations in any way they can, even though they are merely a participant.”

So, what is live polling, and how does it work?

A poll is a question or prompt you want your audience to interact with. Live polling means it is done in real-time. Though different companies have different methods for presenting the data collected, most of them allow voting and responses through Twitter, text and/or a website with login information specific to your event. Thus, it is important for your event location to have free Wi-Fi available (another expectation Schwabel shares of the millennial generation).

According to SMS Poll, a web-based polling company, there are very specific benefits to live polling:

  • Find out what your audience is thinking at any moment in time.
  • Grab your audience’s attention by starting your presentation with a thought-provoking question.
  • Actively involve your audience in the presentation – keep them engaged and interested in what you have to say.
  • Increase audience participation through anonymous responses.
  • Allow the crowd to provide instant presenter feedback.
  • Wow your audience with animated charts that update in real-time.

With most web-based polling companies, there are different pricing structures based on number of questions asked, number of participants and how the results are processed. By researching various companies, you can choose the polling program best suited for your event. Here are a few you could start with: SMS Poll, Poll Everywhere, Audience Opinion and AnswerQwik.

Sharing Stories During Your Event

Stories are powerful, especially personal stories.  How can you harness the power of personal stories at your next event?

  1. Identify the type of story you need.  Stories of hope? Survival? A journey of faith? Try to find a phrase that describes the type of story you are looking for.  If you are too specific, you’ll knock most people out of the running.  Try to walk the line between a strong theme and an overly specific one.
  2. Decide how you want to share the stories.  Will you be handing these out in written form, as video interviews, spoken from a podium, shared in small groups?
  3. Identify your pool of potential storytellers.  Everyone attending the event? The leadership? The speakers?
  4. Contact your potential storytellers in advance.  This could be an email, or an in person request the day before it is time to share the stories.  What you shouldn’t do is suddenly announce that people will be sharing their stories with no advance warning.  People need time to recall and reflect.  The amount of time you give is often related to the format you’ll be sharing stories in.  For example, sharing in a group –participants might only need 24 hours notice.  However, to distribute stories in a written handout, you’d need to collect the stories, compile them, and print them out.
  5. Collect and refine.  Be careful during this stage.  Personal stories are—very personal, but you need to check them over to make sure they are appropriate and on topic.  Some people begin telling their “story of hope” and end up down a rabbit trail.  You may need to guide storytellers back to the main topic.  And hopefully you will have provided an idea of length- word count, space or time restrictions, at the beginning.
  6. Distribute and enjoy.  This is the part you’ve been waiting for.  The power of personal stories is reverberating around the room.  Event attendees are seeing the topic in a new light, and how it might be fleshed out in real life.

Using personal stories takes quite a bit of time and effort, but it is worth it!  How do you use these types of stories in your event marketing or gatherings?