The Power of a Smile

A few years ago I had the privilege of attending a conference at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  The Broadmoor is a beautiful hotel with luxurious accommodations.  However, while I enjoyed the chocolate on my pillow each night, the amazing holiday decorations and the beautiful grounds, these weren’t the first things I told my husband about after I returned.  The one thing, above all else, I remember about the Broadmoor is the staff.  Every staff member, no matter his or her employment position, spoke to me and smiled.  It didn’t matter how busy they were or where they were headed – each person was trained to speak to guests and offer a warm smile.  They had great customer service.golden leaderDave Ramsey recently tweeted, “If you are happy notify your face. Others around you will be glad you did.”  I can’t imagine every employee at the Broadmoor was happy the entire time I was there.  However, I never saw a side of them that showed otherwise.  They were consistent in their attitudes towards guests.

I have often thought back to that conference, especially when preparing for an event or in the midst of hosting a conference.  Here are a few questions I now ask myself before, during and after the event:

  1. Am I truly happy to be a part of this event?  (If not, why am I spending my time planning, directing, hosting, evaluating, etc?)
  2. Do my guests visibly see my excitement for this event?  (If not, how can I adjust my attitudes and actions to reflect my enthusiasm?)
  3. Is my positive attitude reflected in other event staff and volunteers?  (If not, what type of environment am I fostering for my team?  Am I creating a contagious mood of excitement?)
  4. When plans don’t go as expected, is my reaction met with a smile and a sense of calm?  (If not, how can I better prepare for the unexpected?)

How are you reflecting your attitudes about the conferences and events you are planning?  Others will sense your feelings and most likely emulate them.   Choose today to make a conscious effort to smile and say a nice word to all of your guests at your next event.  From registration to meal times to large group sessions, instill a sense of excitement among your event team.  I guarantee your guests will notice!

Choosing the Right Date for Your Event

There are 365 days in most years.  Know what that means?  There are 365 possible dates for you to plan an event and even more if you factor in an overnight retreat.  That’s a lot of choices!

Calendar with numbers, green thumbtack, recycled paper
How can you know which dates are best for your event?  While there is no perfect formula, here are a few things you should keep in mind when choosing an event date.

  1. Is there a major holiday directly during or immediately before or after the proposed event?  These usually come with travel, family get-togethers and often overbooked schedules, so try to avoid interfering with these times (unless your event is holiday-focused).
  2. Is there a large event occurring in your community during this time?  If so, you might end up competing with this or asking people to choose between a neighborhood event and your event, something best not to do.  An Internet search of “your city” and “events” should give you an idea of what is scheduled.
  3. Have you checked the school calendar?  If you are planning a large-scale event with people from many cities or states, this might be a little harder.  However, look at the areas from which you wish to draw the largest groups of people.  Key dates to look at include back-to-school, winter and spring breaks and graduations.
  4. Are other national events occurring during the proposed event time?  These could include, but are not limited to, elections and sporting events such as the Final Four and the Super Bowl.
  5. Is this an event you want to schedule at the same time every year?  If so, consider a time that can easily be repeated annually.

If there is one thing I have learned in event planning, it’s that you won’t be able to accommodate the schedule of everyone who wants to attend.  This is an impossible task.  Choose the date or dates that work best for the greatest number of people, and be confident as you promote your event.  Early planning on your part might give you an advantage as people plan their upcoming schedules.

A Word of Encouragement

We all need encouragement.  Retreats often provide a great opportunity for spiritual renewal and foster an environment for encouragement.  Not every event lends itself to set times for encouragement, but if yours does, consider incorporating an activity that allows participants to encourage and be encouraged.Thank YouHere are a few ideas for encouragement activities you can do at your next retreat:

  1. A Pat on the Back:  Tape a piece of paper on each participant’s back.  Have all the participants write an encouraging word describing that person on the paper with a marker.  When everyone has written on each person’s back, they can take the paper off and spend a few moments reading what others wrote.  (Note:  this activity requires a little bit of space and light activity as participants walk around to write on each back.)
  2. Snapshot of Encouragement:  This activity is similar to the one described above with a few twists.   One-by-one, have each participant sit with his/her back to a dry-erase board.  The other participants write a word describing that person on the board.  When everyone has finished, take a photo of the person sitting in front of the dry-erase board and then erase it.  After the retreat, print and mail or email these pictures to each participant.  (Note:  this activity takes a bit longer since each person goes one-by-one.  You may need to divide your group into smaller numbers depending on your size.)
  3. Secret Messages:  Before your retreat, write each participant’s name on a manila envelope.  Hang these on a wall or bulletin board in a common area.  Throughout your event, have participants write encouraging notes to each other on provided slips of paper, and place each of these notes in the corresponding envelopes.  At the end of your retreat, give each participant his/her envelope.  (Note:  Announce this activity at the opening of your retreat so the participants will have ample time to write notes.  Encourage each participant to write a note for everyone attending.)

These are just a few encouragement activities you can try at your next retreat.  While these are designed for smaller events, you can adjust how these are implemented to accommodate larger groups.  The easiest way to do this is to divide your group into smaller numbers.  As an added bonus, these activities provide a tangible take-home for participants to remember the retreat.  Make sure to include yourself (as the event planner) in this activity too!  Even you can use a word of encouragement, especially in the hustle and bustle of your retreat.

Creating a Great Stage Design, Part Two

In continuation of our last blog post about creating great stage designs, Jordon Rudesill, Director of Service Programming at The Journey Church, shares insights into designing effective, portable stages for your next retreat.  Here are the last four key points I learned from our discussion.

studio in old wooden room

  1. Utilize various materials for different stage sets.  Coroplast sheets are a good option.  They come in different colors, are lightweight and are extremely durable.  Recyclable materials are also a good choice – pallets, construction materials, cardboard tubes, etc.  If you have the ability to use lighting, find material that reflects light well or that allows light to shine through, almost giving it a glow.
  2. Keep it local. Don’t think you have to do everything on your own.  There are people around you who love to design and build things.  Allow them to use their gifts in a different sort of outlet than how they typically employ their skills.
  3. Consider a generic stage set.  If you will need your set for more than one event, want to put a little more money into creating something “bigger” for your stage or have a small budget for a number of events, consider something you can use over and over again.  By doing this, you can tweak little parts of it to go with different event themes.
  4. If you can’t build it, why not print it?  Banners, posters and pop-up displays are an easy way to bring your theme to life as you plan your set.  They can be a focal point or can serve as space fillers on the stage.  These can be as generic or as event-specific as you desire.  In addition, if you want to print large posters yourself, you can do this with free online programs such as Block Posters and PosteRazor.  These programs allow you to print large size images by breaking them into smaller sheets of paper and then adhering them together.  While this requires a bit of hands-on work, the result can be quite remarkable.

Designing a set can be a bit of a daunting task if it’s something out of your usual routine. However, there are great online resources to help you as you brainstorm for your next event.  These include churchstagedesignideas.com and journeybackstage.com.

Thanks to Jordon Rudesill for his insight on creating great stage designs!  If you have any tips of your own, please share them in the comments section.

Creating a Great Stage Design, Part One

Paint CanIt was supposed to be an awesome stage set complementing our camp theme, “Under Construction.”  Aesthetically, it looked great!  Practically, it was an absolute nightmare!  The set depicted a wall of a house undergoing construction.  There were exposed wall studs, a few hanging wires, unfinished sheetrock, etc.  This part was easily portable.  The problem came when I thought it would be a grand idea to stack empty paint cans (at least 50 of them) on the sides of the wall to add a little “extra” to the set.  Our camp was going to be smaller than we had anticipated, so in order to create a more intimate environment our set was on the floor and not elevated on a stage.  We needed this same floor space for other activities; thus, several times each day my staff had to move the set.  Moving the set included unstacking and restacking every single paint can.  Every.  Single.  Paint.  Can.  What was supposed to be a great design turned into a programming disaster!

Recently I spoke with Jordon Rudesill, Director of Service Programming at The Journey Church in Murray, KY.  The Journey holds its weekly services on the campus of Murray State University, meaning the stage set has to be set up and taken down each week.  Here are four of eight key points I learned from Jordon on creating a great stage design.

  1. Adapt your design to the audience you will be reaching.  Kids love elaborate stage designs, such as the ones often seen during VBS.  Most adults don’t need a set like this to stay engaged.   Know your audience.
  2. Create something to enhance the service but not take away from the speaker and message.  If your set is a distraction to your group, you have not designed your stage well.  Sometimes simple is better.
  3. Make your stage lightweight.   Ask yourself, “Will those setting up and tearing down be able to easily lift the set?  How is this going to fit together on stage?  How will we store this?  How will we transport this?”
  4. Don’t allow your stage design to break your event budget.  Sometimes being restricted by money makes you become even more creative!  You can often find materials to “recycle” for use in your set.

Stay tuned for part two of this blog post where I will share the last four points I learned from Jordon, including great online resources for design ideas, recommendations for construction materials and more!

Beyond the “Hello, My Name Is…”

We recently blogged about effectively designing name badges.  When done right, name badges can be a great tool for your event.  When done incorrectly, they can be a distraction and something attendees purposefully “forget” to wear.  Name badges are often considered a necessary evil, but they don’t have to be!

Here are a few ways you can utilize name badges for more than their intended purpose.

  1. Meal Tickets.  If the event is being held in a location requiring meal tickets for entry into the dining facility, consider using name badges to serve that purpose.  Talk with the event host to see if this is a possibility.  This is best utilized if the entire group is on the same meal schedule; however, there are ways to differentiate between guests with varying meal plans.  Consider a different color lanyard or name badge background for each meal plan.
  2. VIPs.  Do you have particular guests that might need “special attention?”  Perhaps these people can charge items on the conference tab, such as at the location’s coffee shop or office center.  Certain guests might need easy access to backstage areas or the green room.  Attach a badge ribbon or sticker to the name badge of these people in order to differentiate them from other attendees.
  3. Small Groups.  Will guests break out into pre-arranged small groups during the event?  Note the group an attendee will be in on the corner of the name badge.  This will take a little extra preparation time, but it is an easy way to quickly divide into groups.  (How many times have you tried to number off a group only to find half of the people forget their number by the end of the line?  This is a helpful way to solve that dilemma!)

Name badges serve a primary purpose:  they tell us your name.  With a little creativity, however, you can make use of these conference staples for additional purposes.  Keep these two things in mind if you want to go “beyond the name badge.”  First, too much information can distract from the name.  Choose one or two extras to add, if needed.  Second, and most importantly, the key in successful extra uses of a name badge is communication between your leadership and your event host location.  For example, don’t assume you can use name badges as meal tickets without talking with the host location.  (And, if you are the host location, make sure you communicate with the dining facility if the typical meal ticket required is done differently.)

Have you used name badges for something extra in an event?  If so, share those ideas with us in the comments section.

Lend a Helping Hand

Volunteer PostWhen you sit down to plan a retreat, thoughts typically turn to how your group will be served.  Main sessions.  Breakout topics.  Meals.  Schedules.  Free time.  The to-do list can seem endless.  For your next event, why not consider planning an afternoon for your guests to serve others?  Volunteering in the community is a great way to get retreat attendees moving and provides an avenue for team building, all while doing something to help in a tangible way.  Not all retreats lend themselves to this type of activity; however, if there is availability and you are looking for a different way to spend an afternoon, think about these things as you plan for your community service time.

Think variety.  Not all of your attendees will want to do yard work, paint a room or help serve a meal.  Some might prefer visiting a nursing home, talking with a homeless person or picking up litter.  Offer a few different options appealing to a variety of people.  An Internet search of “volunteer opportunities” and the area of your retreat can often open up an array of outlets for your group to serve.  If your event location is more remote, talk with area churches or the retreat center to find possible service projects.

Think supplies.  If you are hosting your event in an out-of-town location, keep in mind supplies you will need to complete your projects.  Construction and maintenance type tasks can be easy to find, but they require very specific tools.  Do you have a way to bring these?  Are they available to borrow?  If you are not in your hometown, consider partnering with established organizations that can provide the equipment you need.  It is also important to prepare your attendees for these projects.  Do they need to bring work clothes?   Painting can be fun, until it gets on your favorite outfit!

Think time.  Retreat schedules are usually busy.  Considering there might be just a few hours allotted for service projects, look for tasks that can be accomplished fully in the given time frame.  Also, make sure there is adequate transportation and allow for travel time as you plan.

If the resources are available, take pictures and video while retreat attendees are participating in different projects.  Share these before large group sessions or in a closing video.

At the end of the day, leave time for those who participate to share about their experiences either in a large or small group setting.  Often some of the best memories of a retreat are the ones we least expect!