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 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!

 

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!

 

BlueFire: An Online Tool for Event Registration

Effective registration is crucial for a successful event. First impressions are key, and for many, registering for an event is the first interaction they have with the host organization. As an event planner, an uncomplicated registration process can allow you to spend time on other details.

While it is possible to create your own registration system, there are online programs available that can streamline the process and virtually take care of it for you. BlueFire is one such online service specifically designed for US-based nonprofit, religious or educational organizations. A faith-based company, BlueFire exists to help nonprofits make giving and getting involved easy for their supporters. According to representative Ben Reese, “Our mission as a company is to provide helpful tools for your organizations to collect payments and donations in any way that they choose. This includes only using BlueFire for event registrations, even free events.” (BlueFire was initially launched to help nonprofits accept online donations. Since inception, it has expanded to include benefits such as event registration, as outlined below.)

Signing up for BlueFire is very simple. An easy, step-by-step guide is available on the BlueFire website, gobluefire.com. There are no set-up fees, monthly charges or contracts to sign. Registration with BlueFire includes registration with HaloPays, the payment processor and payment gateway that will be used behind-the-scenes. HaloPays charges a low percentage transaction fee.

After reviewing BlueFire, here are a few benefits:

  • BlueFire easily integrates into your current website.
  • You can set up both free and paid events for your organization. Secure payment by credit, debit or e-check is available.
  • In addition to registration and payment, registrants can also provide information such as t-shirt size, dietary restrictions, etc.
  • It is possible to take payments on location with a USB credit card swiper.
  • BlueFire supports unlimited administrator, webmaster and accountant-level accounts, allowing organizations to provide appropriate access to any of their members.
  • You can easily monitor registrations and payments in one spot.
  • BlueFire is PCI-DSS compliant.

Reese also adds, “With BlueFire, our organizations don’t just receive a flexible and robust event registration system. They also receive a powerful donation and payment system with user-friendly reporting and reconciliation tools, reliable 3-day batch processing and the support of an organization that wants to see Jesus Christ magnified.”

When it’s time for your next event registration, don’t feel like you have to begin from scratch. There are tools designed to help your registration be as successful as possible.

These opinions and thoughts are my own, and I have not been compensated from BlueFire for this blog post…I just really like their software!

 

National Day of…

February 14.  April 1.  October 31.  These are all dates we can easily match to an “official” day – Valentine’s Day, April Fool’s Day and Halloween.  Does September 19 mean anything to you?  Probably not, but if you’re anywhere near a Krispy Kreme Doughnuts on this day, you may run into people dressed as pirates and ordering in a pirate voice.  It’s National Talk Like a Pirate Day.  Krispy Kreme has embraced this as a promotional tool for their doughnuts.  It’s fun.  It gets people excited.  People of all ages participate.

When planning an event, you might need a little extra “something” – this may be an activity, a giveaway, an evening event or just an extra from the stage.  Depending on the dates of your event, it might just fall on a “national day” you can integrate.  A simple search on the website nationaldaycalendar.com (or other national day website) can give you detailed information on fun days you can celebrate throughout the year.

Here are a few I found that could easily be incorporated into event planning:

  • January 19: National Popcorn Day (How about a popcorn bar after the evening session?)
  • February 10: National Umbrella Day (Use umbrellas as a giveaway with your event logo on them.)
  • March 23: National Chip and Dip Day (Serve a variety of chips and dips for your afternoon break.)
  • April 20: National Look Alike Day (Let your guests know ahead of time and have a look alike contest during your event.)
  • May 14: National Dance Like a Chicken Day (Nothing says “wake up” in your morning session more than having your entire group get up and dance like a chicken!)
  • June 23: National Pink Day (Let your guests know before the event to wear pink, and serve pink lemonade and other pink snacks during your break.)
  • July 23: National Vanilla Ice Cream Day (If you’re serving lunch, have ice cream for dessert.)
  • August 12: National Middle Child Day (During a large group session, have all of the middle children stand up and clap for them; trust me (as a middle child myself), they will appreciate it!)
  • September 12: National Day of Encouragement (Leave slips of paper in chairs for guests to write an encouraging note to the person sitting next to them.)
  • October 28: National Chocolate Day (Chocolate fountain?  Chocolate bars?  Chocolate pie?  The possibilities are endless!)
  • November 17: National Take a Hike Day (As an afternoon activity, plan a hike for your guests – don’t forget the trail mix!)
  • December 28: National Card Playing Day (If you’re looking for a late night activity for the night owls, have various card games for guests to play at their leisure.)

While these national days may seem a little far-fetched, they can add a fun element to your event!  Once you plan your dates, do a quick search and you may find an activity perfect for your group!

Weekend Spiritual Retreat Curriculum Ideas

One of the foundational elements in planning a weekend spiritual retreat is the curriculum you will study during large and small group times.  For many, this can seem like an overwhelming task.  Do you write it yourself?  Are there materials out there?  Where do you find them?  You may have the luxury of a skilled curriculum writer who can produce material for your retreat.  You may bring in a speaker who provides his/her own material for both large and small group times.  If you don’t have either of these, there are a number of pre-written curriculum studies you can purchase for your retreat.

I recently spoke with Aaron Wilson, LifeWay Retail Church Representative, based out of Charlotte, NC.  He offered great resource suggestions for a variety of retreats.

For General Spiritual Retreats:

  • Explore the Bible:  Studies for groups who want to focus on one particular book of the Bible and study verses in their full context.
  • The Gospel Project:  Studies for groups who want to examine how the story of Jesus and His gospel is woven into all of Scripture.
  • Bible Studies for Life:  Studies for groups who are curious about how Biblical truth intersects with everyday life.

For Women:

For Men:

  • 33 Series: DVD-based series designed to equip men to pursue authentic manhood as modeled by Jesus in the 33 years He lived on earth.  There are six studies within this series.

For Couples:

  • Fireproof Your Marriage:  Study builds off themes presented in the movie, Fireproof (a great movie to show at the beginning or end of the retreat!).
  • The Art of Marriage:  DVD-based study geared toward making your marriage a masterpiece.
  • The Five Love Languages Study:  Study based off the best selling book by the same title. This revised edition provides a short, 2-session setting for weekend retreats in addition to a longer session study.

Choosing a study for your retreat doesn’t have to be a daunting task.  There are many options available that can easily be altered to fit your retreat schedule and needs.  Many of these studies have online samples you can preview before purchasing.

A big thanks to Aaron Wilson for sharing such a wide range of Bible study options LifeWay Stores offer both in-store and online (lifeway.com).

 

What’s in Your Bag of Tricks?

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about icebreaker questions to help spur on conversation among attendees in a group. Last week, as I began our small group discussion at church with an introduction time (we had a lot of new faces), I was put on the spot for a fun question to have each person answer as they introduced themselves. My mind drew a complete blank, and we ended up answering an awkward question about our Christmas holidays, weeks after the decorations have been put away. I remembered the post I wrote, but not a single question came to mind!

How can you be prepared for situations like these? I’ve met group facilitators/event planners who often have what they call a “bag of tricks” (figuratively speaking) – things they know they can pull out anytime that will help get people talking, fill in a spot that may be lagging or just break the monotony of a lecture or presentation. The main component of these ideas is simplicity – no set-up or special supplies are needed so you can use these at anytime, anywhere.

What do you have in your “bag of tricks”? Here are a few ideas:

  • Icebreaker Questions: These are designed to facilitate discussion and help people begin to feel comfortable speaking around each other. Some examples include:
    • If you could eliminate one thing from your daily schedule, what would it be?
    • Would you rather be three feet tall or ten feet tall?
    • How many pairs of shoes are in your closet?
    • What is in the trunk of your car right now?
    • What is the most unusual thing you have ever eaten?
  • Stand Up and Stretch: Sometimes all your group needs to stay focused is a small break to stand up and stretch. Leading your attendees in a few easy exercises (or even breaking out in a small song and dance) can get the blood flowing and even bring a few laughs!
  • Jokes or Funny Stories: Commit to memory a few funny (and appropriate) jokes or stories. Use these sparingly and only if you can tell them correctly!
  • Teambuilding Games: Have one or two teambuilding activities you can do with various size groups with no set-up involved. “Knots” and “Never Have I Ever” are two good options, though a quick Google search can give you many more ideas.

Hopefully, by having a few things in your “bag of tricks” you can avoid awkward moments of silence and be a more dynamic group facilitator/speaker as you interact with your attendees. If you have trouble thinking of things on the spot, keep a list of these on your smartphone or other device you might have with you for a quick reference before your session begins.

What’s in your “bag of tricks”?