Creating a Comfortable Auditorium Atmosphere

Have you ever been excited to attend an event, session or movie only to find, once you get there, the auditorium is absolutely freezing, and your jacket is in the car?  Have you tried to take notes during a session in that same auditorium only to find it is so dark the screen on your tablet is illuminating your entire seating section?

One goal of an event planner is to provide a distraction-free environment.  There are many factors that play into designing a comfortable auditorium setting for your general sessions.  Temperature, lighting, sound and much more all combine to create a session people remember for the content or a session people remember because of the distractions.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when planning your large-group gatherings:

  1. Temperature – An empty room may feel cold, but when you fill it with people, it can heat up quickly. Don’t be too hasty to ask for a temperature adjustment because one or two people are cold when they arrive.  If you think the temperature needs to be changed, discuss concerns with the staff of the venue.  Their experiences and history in that venue should carry a lot of weight – don’t discount their judgment.
  2. Sound – Volume is measured in decibels, and there are standards to go by when it comes to what is too loud for your auditorium space. You can download decibel meters on your computer or smartphone.  The conference location should have an actual decibel meter to more accurately measure levels.  Never be afraid to ask the venue staff to check the decibel range and adjust accordingly.
  3. Lighting – While it is perfectly acceptable to lower the lights during worship times, remember to raise the lights during a speaking session so guests can follow along in their Bibles/conference guides and be able to take notes.
  4. Seating – Know the capacity of your room and the best way to arrange your seating. Some venues have permanent seating, while others allow for a customizable set-up.  Regardless of the way you arrange your seats, make sure guests are free from obstructions such as video-cameras or decorations that might hinder their view.

It’s a given – you can never please everyone.  However, by being proactive in planning these aspects of a general session, you can successfully eliminate a number of complaints.  There will always be a few who are too hot or too cold.  There will always be some who say the sound is too loud or too soft.  Listen to feedback and make adjustments if it is a recurring theme among participants.

 

Technology and Workshops: Preparation is Key

By nature, I am a planner, not a procrastinator.  When I was in graduate school, a professor reminded us, “A lack of preparation on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.”  Wise words, but when you are an event planner working alongside both planners and procrastinators, you have to be prepared for anything.  However, by planning ahead as much as possible, you can (hopefully) limit the number of “emergencies” that may arise.

Break-out sessions and workshops are a valuable part of many conferences.  With additional sessions, however, come additional leaders, additional set-up, additional materials and the additional chance for last-minute needs.

In order to prepare for these sessions, ask your workshop leaders these questions regarding media set-up prior to the event:

  1. Will you need a projection system for your computer?
  2. If so, will you bring your own computer, or do you need one provided? (Recommend your leaders bring their own computers.  This will help alleviate any issues with presentations displaying correctly.)
  3. Does your computer have a VGA or HDMI output? If not, do you have the proper adaptor, or do you need one provided?
  4. Where will you place your computer in relation to the projector? This will help determine the length of cable needed to provide.
  5. Will you need sound for your presentation?
  6. Do you need assistance setting up your computer with the projection system?

In order to serve your workshop leaders well, make sure you provide them with what they request.  If you cannot honor a request, let them know ahead of time so other arrangements can be made if necessary.  Remember, planning ahead helps you too!

Here are a few additional tips to pass along to your leaders using computers at their workshops:

  1. Before your workshop begins, give your computer a fresh restart. Only open the application you need to run your presentation.  Close other applications, including Facebook!
  2. Make sure your computer’s screen saver is off – you don’t want to be in the middle of your presentation only to have pictures from your latest beach vacation start to scroll.
  3. If you are using sound, turn the volume on your computer all the way up, and let the sound engineer control the volume on his/her end.
  4. Bring your power cord!

 

 

Meeting Room Setups

You’ve planned the perfect event, selected the perfect location and now you have to turn in your meeting room configurations to your site.  How do you decide what is best and what do all of the configuration types mean? Here is a quick guide to the site lingo that should help you as you work on your details.

  • Theater:  Appropriate for large sessions and short lectures that do not require extensive note taking. This is a convenient setup to use before breaking into discussion groups because chairs can be moved.
  • Classroom:  A desirable setup for medium size lectures. This configuration requires a relatively large room. Tables provide attendees with space for spreading out materials and taking notes.
  • U-shape:  Appropriate for groups of fewer than 40 people. These are best for interaction with a leader seated at the head of the setup. Audiovisual equipment is usually set up at the open end of the seating.
  • Rounds:  Generally used for meals and sessions involving small group discussions. A five foot round table seats eight people comfortably. A six foot round table seats 10 people comfortably.
  • Reception:  Creating an environment for networking with others by leaving the room open typically with stations of food and beverage and seating for about a quarter of your attendees.
  • Hollow Square or Conference:  Appropriate for interactive discussions and note taking sessions for fewer than 25 people.
  • Boardroom:  A lot of facilities have special rooms for small board meetings with a single boardroom table comfortably seating 10-14 people typically equipped with full audiovisual capabilities, a writing board or flip chart.

Remember you might need to specify what you are thinking when you are making arrangements with your location site (as most sites will block space to accommodate the numbers you are requesting in a theater setup) to ensure you are getting the space needed to accommodate your event.

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!

 

 

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?

Ideas for Fall Retreat Decorations

Autumn harvest with Farmers Vegetables and  fruitsAs my daughter and I were playing at a park the other day, we spent a lot of time picking up acorns off the ground.  These weren’t your average acorns, though.  They were some of the biggest ones I had ever seen.  They were beautiful.  I couldn’t help but think of all the fun ways to use these in fall decorations.  My daughter had different plans for them, as they made great objects to toss into the stream nearby.

Next to Christmas events, I think conferences and retreats during the fall months can be some of the easiest to decorate.  Here are a few ideas on items to use as you plan your decorations:

Pumpkins are probably the most-used fall decoration, but there are many ways to use them for your stage, entryways, table centerpieces and more.  Combine pumpkins of different shapes, sizes and colors to create a beautiful fall arrangement.  Pumpkins can also be carved in very creative ways.  Gone are the days of a simple snaggle tooth face carved in a pumpkin.  Utilize geometric patterns, etching and stencils to create simple or intricate designs.  Consider carving or painting your group logo on a pumpkin on the registration table.
Use various types of containers to fill with fall decorations.  These can include wheelbarrows, harvest baskets, barrels, pumpkins with the tops carved out, wash tins and baskets filled with burlap overlays.
Fall provides vivid colors as leaves change from greens to reds, yellows and oranges.  Either real or artificial leaves can be used to enhance decorations.  Chrysanthemums, or mums, are one of the most popular fall flowers.  Pots of mums in vibrant colors can be found at most supermarkets, home improvement stores and nurseries.  (You can also give these away at the end of your events to volunteers and team members.)
Acorns, squash, gourds and apples can also add to your fall decorations.  These can be arranged in smaller groupings to showcase an array of fall colors.
Hay bales are a great way to add height to your stage decorations.  Keep in mind they are quite messy, so make sure to place something under them for easier transfer.  Your clean-up crew will greatly thank you for this!

Whatever your decoration style, fall provides a time for beautiful arrangements in brilliant colors.  Your guests will definitely notice these little touches you may provide throughout your event.

What are your favorite fall decoration ideas?  Share in the comments section below!

Creative Ways to Divide into Groups

In our small group at church last Sunday, the leader wanted us to break up into small groups.  In an effort to mix us up, he had us number off.  There we were, ranging in age from 30 to 70, simply counting off by 1, 2, 3.  Needless to say, it proved quite difficult for some of the group.  I’ve experienced this countless times with children and youth, but this was a new one for me with middle aged adults struggling to count off by threes!

Meeting Of Support GroupThere was a very intentional purpose in not having us choose our own groups.  We flock to people we know.  We separate into groups where we are most comfortable.  That was not the goal of this exercise.  The goal was to meet new people, get out of our “familiar” and hear the ideas and opinions of others.

Breaking up into smaller groups is often an important element in retreat settings.  If you’re looking for ways to separate your group into smaller units, here are some ideas you can implement.  (Note:  these are intended for groups of approximately 25-50 people.)

  • Candy in a Bag – Put different types of wrapped candy in a bag (if you want to have four groups, use four types of candy).  Have each person choose a piece of candy.  Separate into groups based on the types they choose.
  • Birthdays – Ask participants to find group members who share the same birthday month as they do.
  • Animal Sounds – Before you begin, write the names of different animals on slips of paper (based on the number of groups you want to have).  These can include cows, pigs, dogs, horses, etc.  Have everyone draw a slip of paper out of a basket.  In order to find their group, each person must make the sound of the animal on their paper.  (As an alternative, you could also use vehicle sounds, motions pertaining to different sports, etc.)
  • Seat Colors – Prior to the group arriving, tape a strip of colored paper under each chair in the room.  When the participants take a seat, have them look under their chairs for the slips of paper.  Break them into groups based on the different colors.
  • Arm/Finger Cross – If you need two separate groups, here are two possible ideas:  Have everyone cross their arms across their chests.  Divide into groups based on which arm is crossed over the top.  One group will include those who crossed the right arm over the left, and the other group will have those who crossed the left arm over the right.  In addition, you can also use this same principle with thumbs.  Have guests close their eyes and interlock their hands.  Groups are formed by which thumb is on the top – right thumbs on top form one team, while left thumbs on top form the other.

Do you have other creative ways to separate into small groups?  Share in the comments section below!

How To Create an Event Summary Sheet For Your Guests

Going to a conference or other event often sends guests into information overload. I’ve heard it said that conference attendees are receiving information through a fire-hose, information gushing out at them at a rate they can’t retain or even process. What if you gave guests a way to centralize the information they were collecting, on a single sheet of paper?

Not only would the act of filling out the sheet help them identify and better retain the information they were receiving, it will also be a great reference later. (Studies have shown that summarizing information helps us remember it better.) So, what might you include? I’ve created a list here of things you could include, you would need to tweak this to make it perfect for your particular event.

  • Name of Event:
  • Topic:
  • Main Speaker:
  • Takeaway principles and lessons from main sessions:
  • Breakout session ideas/tips I want to remember:
  • Names of new contacts/their information:
  • Books/magazines/articles to find:
  • Follow up Actions After Conference:

Feel free to use this summary sheet information, distribute it, etc. It is for your use and enjoyment. What other ways might you help your attendees deal with the glut of information they receive? You could: provide them with a nice place to keep collected business cards, always have lots of pens and paper handy, or give structured time for reflection and processing. How do you help your guests with this task of processing and remembering information at a conference?

Helpful Hints for Creating Rooming Lists

For some event planners, creating a rooming list can be a daunting task.  Rooming requests, special rooming needs and the desire to please guests with roommate assignments can be the perfect mixture for a stressful situation.  Here are a few helpful hints for your next rooming lists assignments.

  1. Check with your host center location to see if there are specific housing assignment forms you need to use.  If not, an Excel spreadsheet is a very easy way to organize your guests into rooms.
  2. Make sure your guests are up-front about specific rooming needs they may have.  Handicapped rooms, first floor rooms, rooms near exits or adjoining rooms might be requested.  These needs must be shared with the host location, as well, as soon as you are made aware of them.  There is often no guarantee for these specific rooms as there are limited types available, but if you make them aware early, the chances for meeting these requests are greater.
  3. Know what room types you have and clearly communicate this with your guests.  Four guests to a room could mean a number of different configurations – two sets of bunkbeds, two queen beds, four single beds, etc.  Women and senior adults typically do not want to use a top bunk.  Men often prefer a bed to themselves.  Know your audience and adjust your room assignments accordingly.  If someone is adamant about having a room to himself or herself, offer this to them if there is availability at an increased cost to cover the remainder of the room.
  4. Honor roommate requests when you can, especially if the person attending is a guest of another.  It’s always best if both participants request each other, rather than one person requesting another person without that person knowing.  You can also limit the number of room requests each participant has.  Use your discretion.
  5. Decide before your event how you will handle room changes.  Can guests switch on their own?  Do they need to come to you to make changes?  Are changes allowed?

In order to eliminate extra headaches when working through rooming assignments, select one person (other than yourself) to take charge of housing.  All requests and changes should go directly through this person.  Communicate this clearly to your guests.  By taking this off your very full event plate, you can concentrate on planning details rather than ever-changing rooming list spreadsheets.

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.