Early Bird Registration

Commitmentphobia.  The fear of commitment.  It’s a phenomenon plaguing our churches, small groups and for some, our very own events.  Getting an RSVP for a party a week away can prove a daunting task, much less registration for events months away.  This is a planner’s nightmare!  Pre-registration is essential for adequate preparation; early registration is an added bonus.

Most events will have a registration deadline.  These deadlines will vary based on the type of event you are hosting.  However, if you can provide an “early bird” registration date (prior to the general deadline), this can benefit your planning process.  For many events, numbers determine everything.  By asking people to register ahead of time, you can gauge overall interest, know whether the event should go forward or be cancelled and help in general planning.  For example, you may realize a larger event space, more break-out rooms or a larger hotel block are needed.  If the venue has a minimum financial responsibility that must be meet, you may be able to adjust that based on early interest.

So, how do you get people to commit to an event early in a world full of “commitment-phobes”?  Offer incentives for registering by a certain date.  These can include:

  • A cheaper program fee
  • Preferred seating in large group sessions
  • Meet and greet with the keynote speaker
  • First choice of housing options
  • A separate, expedited check-in line on the day of the event
  • A special gift (t-shirt, tote bag, notebook, etc.)

Make sure you market these early registration promotions well.  Email blasts, social media campaigns and mailers can provide buzz about your event registration.  If prospective attendees see an added benefit to registering early, they may jump at the opportunity to participate.  The more commitment you can get in advance, the more you can fully prepare for your upcoming event.  More commitment can also spur greater event attendance. The more people are talking, the more people will be interested!

Do you have incentive ideas for early registration?  If so, comment below!


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!


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!


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.

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?

Valuable Content You Don’t Have To Write

You know your event page could draw more internet traffic if it held high value content. But you’re not an expert on the topic of the event. Who could create a well-written, timely, relevant piece that would show up on searches performed by your target audience? Fortunately, you identified experts in the target field when you chose someone known and respected by your specific audience– your event speakers!

Start with a short email or phone discussion with your speakers. Have they written anything recently they think the audience would benefit from? An article, a report, an excerpt from an upcoming book? If it has been previously published they might need to seek permission from the publisher to share it on your site. If they haven’t produced anything relevant, ask if they’d be willing to. What should you ask for? It depends on the topic and audience. Brainstorm together. Even small things like a template, checklist or one page industry overview can communicate valuable information and show off expertise.

If your speaker(s) balk at the idea of sharing or producing content, see if they’d be willing to participate in a live webchat Q&A session, or webinar. It is very appealing to audiences to have specific questions answered by an industry expert, and you can record the session and produce a transcript, both to be posted to your event homepage.

All of these options help create valuable content for your event page that you don’t have to personally write and research. Once you have some high value content, be sure to highlight it on your site, making it clearly understandable what it is, who it is for, and how to download or view it. Expert produced content is very appealing for audiences and says to potential event registrants “We know what you need and we can provide high value information.”

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.

How To Foster Face to Face Interactions

Do you think we are more or less dependent on community than we were 50 years ago?  I would say less. Technology, a higher level of job turnover and migration, plus more available outsourcing means we can go weeks, or months, without needing others.

But we still do. I would argue that we are created to be a part of community, whether we acknowledge that need or not. Some people feel that need more deeply than others. But it exists in all of us. So, how can we foster community and face to face interaction between people who attend our events?

  • Small group discussions. Divide people by the state or month they were born in, or their age or profession. Sometimes its great to have a wide variety of ages in a group, other times it’s comforting to be introduced to people who are in your same life stage. Have groups of 6 to 10 discuss the main session that just closed, or what they are learning from the event. Keeping the group smaller than ten will ensure everyone has a chance to talk.
  • Prayer. If you are hosting a faith based event, prayer can be a wonderful way to nourish community. You can break into pairs, or into small groups. Give an “assignment” so that participants aren’t left wondering what to do. For example: “let’s spend some time in prayer for those around us in daily life who don’t know God. Break into small groups of two or three, and pray for the people in your life who are without the hope of Christ. In about five minutes, I’ll close us in prayer.”
  • Brainstorming Challenges. In a room of 250 or less, you can ask groups of 6-10 to come up with answers or solutions to a question or challenge. This gets the group interacting, and provides you with valuable insight into the personality of the gathering. You might ask a large group to break into smaller groups and come up with the three biggest challenges in their ministry. Then, a group representative can come up (or shout out) their group answers for the entire assembly.

Individuals and larger communities can be a wonderful resource. They can give support, share similar experiences, and provide insight into challenges we are facing. Our society focuses on the individual, but you can help your event attendees experience and recognize the value of the people around them, by gently introducing and providing interaction with those in the seat beside them.

How To Find and Download Beautiful, Free, Faith Based Graphics at CreationSwap.com

I started using creationswap.com for great free graphics five or six years ago (back when it was CreativeMYK.com). They’ve got an excellent variety of files, from Powerpoint worship slide templates to invitations to conference posters. The site invites artists and designers to upload their faith based work to share with the greater community. There are free and paid files available for download. Here are a few things I’ve learned about using the site to increase search speed, usability and savings.

  1. Be very specific in the search bar, or you’ll end up searching through too many options. I like searching by a book in the Bible “Psalms”, a pair of keywords “marriage retreat”, or a format “postcard”.
  2. Once you locate a file you are interested in, check its file type. If you need to manipulate the file to use it, make sure you have a program that will open that particular file. It’s frustrating to download the perfect item and then realize you can’t actually use it!
  3. Spend 5 or 10 minutes looking through creationswap.com before spending resources (your time or money) to have a logo, t-shirt, or even mini-movie designed from scratch. It’s worth the investment, think of what you could be saving.
  4. Don’t forget the expert help and print option. Some of the files give you the option of having the file changed by a designer, then printed and shipped to your office. Yes! I love it when things get streamlined!

Here are a few of the beautiful files I found on the site, to show you the variety and quality of design: (PS I’m not getting an kickbacks from this company. I just use and love them!)

The first is a midweek service invitation for a high school group. highschoolmidweekimage

The second example is a fun, space themed kid’s program banner. kidsministrybanner

Finally, here’s a beautiful bulletin. I love the colors and the image of the tree! This worship guide is in the free section of the site. bulletinexample

Hope this gives you a great resource that not only inspires you, but saves you a bit of time and money.

How To Solve Two Common Event Photo Blunders

Sunday Grant is an amazing professional photographer who excels at telling the story of an event. (sundaygrant.com) If you see her photos, you’ll understand why I was excited to get her insight on getting great event photos! I spoke with her to get you some great tips for the perfect marketing, social media, or brochure photos.

During our conversation she gave me tips for avoiding two common photo mistakes when covering an event.

  1. Mistake: Boring, dark interior photos. If you need photos of indoor spaces, like a registration desk, or a large event hall, Sunday recommends taking these steps to inject personality and light into your photos. First, use a wide angle lens. This will allow you to include more of the space. Second, figure out when the area will be shaded, you don’t want the light to be blotchy. Usually you can find this shaded type of lighting in the early morning or early evening. You want the space to be as evenly lit as possible. Third, bring a tripod. This will allow you to use a low shutter speed, a high f stop, and let the light flow into the picture naturally. A tripod will cut down on the hand shake that could cause your photo to come out blurry.  See if you can schedule a time to take the photos when the location will be decorated and set up for the event. That will add visual interest to your now perfectly lit photo! If you can’t get the right exposure by adjusting the shutter speed, try bouncing the camera flash off a white or light colored ceiling. This only lights a limited amount of space, and it doesn’t look as natural as, ahem, natural light, but it’s better than nothing!
  2. Mistake: Stiff, posed photos of participants. You want natural looking photos of people talking and interacting. But, every time the camera comes out, people behave differently or dart away. To remedy this, Sunday recommends using a zoom lens. That way, you can stay out of people’s space, wander around, and when you see a nice shot, take it from a distance without interrupting. Just move around and keep your eyes open.

A big thanks to Sunday for taking the time to talk with me on the phone. If my photos turn out even forty percent as nicely as hers, I’ll be delighted! Share your best event photos with us, and tell us what type of camera, lens and settings you used.