Are We There Yet?

It’s a question that’s been asked by millions of children (and adults if we are being honest) over the years. “Are we there yet?” At some point in our lives, we have all been guilty of asking this timeless travel question.

sad kid tired of trip

As an event planner, you spend countless hours planning the activities your participants will experience during your program. But, have you ever thought about what you might plan for your guests to experience prior to the event, such as during their travel to the host location?

Constructing travel kits for a family camp or family-friendly conference is a great way to provide an extra personal touch, a chance to get your guests engaged before their arrival and something fun to do while traveling. You can easily ship these in small boxes a few weeks prior or hand them out if your participants are coming from a single location.

Here are a few ideas of items to include to make your family travel kits a great success:

  • Car window markers: Prior to their arrival at your conference, families can decorate their car windows. You can even give out prizes to the “best decorated windows” during your opening session.
  • Travel games: Include copies of fun travel games such as a “Road Trip Scavenger Hunt” or the “License Plate States” game. Again, these are things you can award prizes for during the opening session if you let your attendees know to turn these in upon their arrival.
  • Snacks: Simple bagged snacks such as pretzels, crackers and candy are easy to include in travel kits. Be mindful of any special diets and/or allergies your guests may have.
  • Team storytelling: Include a few story prompts where each family member can add a line. A possible example is, “There once was a family who took a trip to camp…” Then let each family member add a line to the story and see how it unfolds.
  • Discussion questions: Include a few questions to help engage families in conversation as they travel. These could be funny questions and also questions relating to the theme of your event.
  • A few extras: In addition to these things, you can also provide small items such as stickers, paper, pens, etc.

Traveling can be a stressful part of attending a camp or conference. By providing something as simple as a travel kit, you can help alleviate a bit of the “are we there yet” syndrome and hopefully have families arrive ready and excited about the event.

Ski Retreats 101, Part Two

*This blog post is a continuation of our previous post, Ski Retreats 101, Part One.

You’ve reserved the ski equipment. You’ve got transportation to and from the ski mountain covered. You’ve made lodging reservations, and you’re praying for the weather conditions to be favorable for your ski retreat. Now what?

Though most planning for winter ski retreats is based on the actual skiing details, there are still things you need to prepare for your trip. Ask yourself, “What is the purpose of this trip?” Is it just for fun? Do you want to have a worship element? Are you trying to build group dynamics? Is this more of an outreach event? As you think about these questions, here are things to consider as you prepare for the non-skiing aspects of your winter retreat:

  • Ski retreats can be a great outreach tool for your group. Keep in mind you may have people attending who are unfamiliar with your group’s purpose. This is a great opportunity to share Christ with them, as well as help them get more acquainted with those in your group.
  • Ski retreats are also a valuable tool in building relationships. These relationships can be between your attendees, your leadership or a combination of both. Scheduling down time in the evenings provides an outlet for relationship building to naturally fall into place.
  • If your purpose involves worship, there are a few ways to go about this. It is best to plan worship times in the evening, as most ski groups leave early in the day to maximize their ski sessions. Your guests will be tired when they return. Depending on the atmosphere and your group dynamics, you may plan a very upbeat worship session. You might consider a more laid back, acoustic session if this better fits the mood of your retreat. There could also be a time for simply having small group discussions divided by age groups.
  • For late evenings, provide time for fireside chats, games (such as cards or board games) and hot chocolate, coffee and snacks. Having a place to meet such as a lobby, conference room or common space is a great way for your group to relax together and foster an environment of relationship building.
  • If you are having giveaways at your retreat, think in terms of winter items such as long-sleeve t-shirts, hoodies, sweatpants or chapstick.
  • For the non-skiers in your group, consider asking your host location if there are areas to sled, snow shoe, tube or go ice-skating.

What advice can you give to someone planning a ski retreat? Comment in the section below.

Ski Retreats 101, Part One

Planning a winter ski retreat this year? Ski retreats can be the perfect getaway for families, couples, singles or youth. Other than the actual skiing logistics, these can be low-key events in terms of planning since most of your day is spent on the slopes. During down time, other than organized worship times, guests often just want to relax as they are tired from a day filled with skiing (and possibly sore from a day filled with falling!).

iStock_Skiing

Here are some ideas to consider as you prepare for the skiing part of your winter retreat:

  • Typically, ski retreats are scheduled around extended holiday weekends (possibly New Years, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, President’s Day, etc.). Keep in mind these are very busy times on ski slopes, so prepare accordingly. Some groups prefer Spring Break ski retreats. There is always the possibility some ski slopes will have closed by this time due to warmer weather, so make sure to have an alternative plan if needed.
  • Most guests will not have personal ski equipment with them, so rentals will be necessary. Host locations often have relationships with ski slopes and ski rental equipment companies. Make sure you make proper reservations (if possible) for these things. It is also a good idea to pick up rental equipment a day prior as there are often long lines during peak ski times. This way you can have everything ready for your first day on the slopes.
  • When traveling to the ski area, make sure you have reliable vehicles and drivers who are comfortable in potentially snowy/icy conditions. Typically, ski resorts make it a priority to keep their roads clear, but there is always a chance of fresh snow while you are on the mountain. An extra vehicle, other than the van or bus your group might be traveling in, is a great thing to have in case of a medical emergency.
  • Consider asking your host location if they provide sack lunches as a meal option. If so, these can reduce costs at the ski slopes, as well as provide a convenient way to have lunch.
  • As with any group trip you take, authorized medical forms are necessary as defined by your organization’s protocol.
  • Packing lists are important if many of your guests are first time skiers. Include things such as ski bibs or waterproof pants, clothes to layer, a waterproof jacket, wool socks, a hat, sunglasses or ski goggles and chapstick.

While skiing is often the highlight of this type of event, there are also things you will need to prepare for when you are not on the slopes. Stay tuned for part two of this blog series as we discuss planning for the non-skiing aspects of winter retreats!

What’s In Your On-Site Meeting Bag

It’s event time. Some planners have a special bag, to carry and organize everything they need during the event. Here’s what my bag usually contains:

  • Chargers. For everything- my phone, my computer, my iPad.
  • Clipboard and pens. I know lots of people have gone completely digital, but I still have some paper spreadsheets, and I like to jot notes to myself.
  • Phone, computer, iPad. Depending on the event I may not bring my computer, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve needed to quickly type something up, and it would have taken me a long time on my phone or iPad.
  • Print Out of Important Contact Info.  I save a lot of time trying to remember names and scrolling by typing/writing up a list of the top 10 numbers I’ll use during the event and printing it off.
  • The Event Schedule and maps.
  • My ID and cash. Most places take credit cards now, but you’d be surprised how many times I’ve heard “cash only”.
  • Snacks and water. Granola bars, little bags of nuts, chewing gum.
  • Business cards. These are great for networking purposes, but I usually hand them out to key players who I want to be able to contact me with problems or questions.
  • Aspirin, Tylenol, band aids. Not an entire medical kit, just a few things I like to have on hand for myself.
  • Wet wipes, facial towels, deodorant. About 4 pm I often start to feel really grimy. It’s nice to be able to wipe off my hands and face and freshen up for the final stretch of the day.
  • Flats. At eight pm when I still have one or two hours to go, it’s nice to be able to switch from heels to flat shoes.

What do you keep in your on-site meeting bag?

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.