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.

How To Create A Visual History

You’ve just arrived at a fundraising luncheon. Would you rather learn about the non-profit from a brochure, a two page report, a twenty minute speech by the director, or an interactive history display?

I’d choose the display. Let’s talk about how you might bring something like this to life for your next event.

First, identify your purpose. What do you want your participant to take away from the display- figuratively! A better understanding of the company’s grass-roots beginnings? Why they are committed to organic standards? A realization of the stellar leadership? A grasp of the evolving product line? Determine a definite purpose and make sure it supports the overall push of the event.

Now that you know your purpose, decide how you could communicate that in an interactive and visual way. How much space do you have? How much time? What is your budget? A simple display might have 5-7 photos with some written descriptions. A larger, more complicated visual tour might have anything from a diorama, audio files to access online via a QR code, maps, info graphics, streaming videos, company “artifacts”, clothing on display… there are so many possibilities!

Before you start to build be sure to take into account how you will transport your display, how long you will have to set it up, and location infrastructure like wifi, door width and power outlets.

Now, gather your materials and finish your test setup. You should let several different people do a walk through and share their observations with you. Ask them what they found interesting, confusing, exciting. You’ll pick up on common responses that will allow you to tweak your display.

Visual displays don’t have to be hard or complicated to create- and they can add so much to an event. Have you ever created anything like this? What was the response? Would you do it again?

Have You Heard of BidPal?

We’re always looking for ways to help improve and streamline your event planning, organization and execution. If you’ve got a charitable fundraiser coming up, you should know about BidPal.

Bidpal is an electronic system that replaces the paper tally sheets that usually accompany a silent auction of multiple items at a charity fundraiser. You know, the ones that sit in front of items, or photos and descriptions of items around a large room, where you walk around and pencil in your name and bid?

BidPal uses handheld devices that look like a smart phone, which guests receive on arrival. They are pre-loaded with photos and descriptions, but guests can still walk around and see the items for bidding in person. There are simple buttons for guests to push to bid on an item, plus other features like the ability to receive bid alerts, and watch favorite items.

If you decide to use the BidPal system (www.bidpalnetwork.com) the company will assign you an event consultant that will help prepare for the big event. They will also conduct a survey of your event site, and provide someone to set up a wireless network, monitor the equipment/information during the event, train your volunteers, and generally manage the BidPal system for you.

BidPal claims that when their system is used, organizations see an average of three times more bids per item. And that means more profit at the end of the evening.

This sounds like a user friendly tech tool that could end up being quite profitable. I would love to hear from anyone in our audience who has used BidPal and what their experience was like. What other technology tools make fundraising easier and more profitable for your clients?

Goodies, Extras and a Big Bonus

Companies have logo’d pens and chap sticks, memo pads and travel mugs. If you’ve been to a conference you’ve received plenty of these type item. I call these small, less than $5 items, goodies. They can be a great little treat that keeps a logo in someone’s view.goodie bagsExtras are a little bit bigger. An extra could be a nice fat resource list, or a set of audio files for free download. Extras cost between $5 and $25 and might be mentioned on the event website or in the brochure. They are very nice perks, but they aren’t large enough to convince someone to attend an event.

A big bonus however, might be the weight that tips someone towards attending your event. The key is to chose a bonus that is especially appealing to your target audience. For example, a speaker training conference I know of offers a professional headshot to everyone who attends. They bring in a professional photographer who accepts appointments, and by the time they leave, they have a headshot as a digital file that they can use to promote themselves. This bonus has a market value between $100 and $300, so this is definitely a big bonus for those that attend!

Another example of a big bonus is the editor meetings offered at our Blue Ridge Writers Conference. Professional and novice writers come for a four day conference at Ridgecrest every May, packed with main sessions, break out training classes a banquet and more.  We also invite event attendees to sign up for time with over 20 working editors. Writers have 15 minutes to pitch a book idea, hand over a manuscript, or ask for advice or direction. Ask any writer who attends, this is the biggest draw of the conference. It’s a big bonus and it serves our event very well.

So, what should your big bonus be? What could you offer that would hold serious appeal for the community of people you will be serving? Is it a physical item? A service? A networking opportunity? If you can’t come up with the perfect item, think of three people that fit your audience profile and ask them. Dream big and be creative!

Goodies, extras and a big bonus should be woven into your event and event advertising with creativity and intentionality. Don’t do these things just because you think you should, or because they’e been done before. Use these items and resources to serve the overall goals of your event and to equip and delight your attendees.

Unique Informational and Directional Signs For Your Next Event

As event planners, we know the value of a well placed sign. They can keep guests from ending up in the wrong place, asking the same question 1,023 times “What’s on the menu for dinner?”, or missing a breakout session when it changes location at the last moment.

Unfortunately, most of the directional/info signs that I see look like an afterthought. A beat up dry erase board on a wobbly stand, with a quick note jotted in smeared black marker. If this sounds all too familiar, then it’s time to update.  Dry erase markers work on a number of different surfaces, what if you used:

largemirrordryeraseframeandpaperframedwhiteboardoldwindow

  • A big mirror in a beautiful frame. Find a very secure stand.
  • A wipe-off board with a solid, nicely painted, wooden frame.
  • A beautiful, brightly colored frame. Put a piece of nice fabric or paper where the picture would normally go.
  • Old windows with four or six different frames. These are perfect for group or table assignments.

If you’d like to see lots of examples and DIY instructions, just click over to www.pinterest.com , you’ll find more than you need!

So, think about the style and theme of your upcoming event and get creative with your signs! Share tips and photos with us of things you’ve done in the past, we’d love to see them.

Struggling to Manage Your Event Guest List and Check In?

Your guest list has just been modified and you are rushing to print the updated copy for all of your check-in staff manning the doors. You’re handing out the new list, and scanning the crowd for the VIP’s you need to greet personally.  Sound familiar? If so, there’s a new app available that might be just what you are looking for- Zkipster, billed as a “Guest List App for Event Planners”.

Zkipster is cloud based, which means all of the information is stored on a big server somewhere that you access via the app you download to your iPad or tablet. Yes, it works on ios or Win 8.  You can use multiple iPads or tablets and all see people checking in in real-time with instant updating. That means if I check in Mr. John Doe, then the other three people with iPads will also see his name as checked in. Sweet!

Last minute add ons or subtractions are no big deal, and you can set it up to notify you when certain people check in, like VIP’s or volunteers. Security is tight on this service, so you don’t have to worry about the names on your guest list getting out. They offer SSL encryption “up to Swiss banking standards.”

Cost. It’s $75 per event if you want to pay as you go, $165 per month for an annual plan, or $185 per month for a seasonal plan with billing every four months. On each of these you can have multiple lists per event, so if you have a pre-session that only 50 people are signed up for, you can keep that list separate from the main session list.

A few add ons are available for an extra fee, one I particularly like is the ability to add a photo to each guest. If you’d like to try this out, just create an account at www.zkipster.com and then download the app from the app store. I hope I get a chance to try this out in the near future, it sounds great, and I’d love to give my printer a rest!

How do you handle your guest list?

Leave Them Wanting More

I originally moved to Nashville wanting to play drums.  I had the opportunity to play in a few bands and make some great music that I’ve very proud to have created, and I’ve definitely reached a place were I’m content playing only at church now.

When we had a gig coming up, we always created set lists to work from, and creating these set lists was never easy.  But as we got to the end of each show, we wanted to go out with a bang every time, so we would always put one of our best and most fun songs at the end.  The goal was as our bass player would say, “Leave them wanting more.”

I know what you’re thinking, “how does this apply to events?”  Well, I’ll tell you.  You probably sit around, plan and dream what the beginning of your event is going to look like.  But do you put as much emphasis on the ending as you do the beginning?  Do you leave the attendees wanting more?

Take the time to create an incredible ending just like that beginning you worked so hard on.  And I’m not just talking about ending in prayer.

If your event is spiritual in nature, maybe you close with an even better worship set than the beginning.

If your event is teaching, maybe you save the best speaker till the end.

If your event includes breakout sessions, maybe you save the best breakout till the end.

You’re starting to get the picture, right?

I bet your team can get creative on how to end your event, and probably even better than some of the ideas I’ve mentioned above.

As your plan your event, be as intentional on creating a closing experience as you are an opening experience.

Remember: Leave them wanting more.