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!



Hosting a Movie Night

Simple can be fun.  Not every event you hold has to be a feat to plan and execute.  While there are times and places for large scale productions, sometimes a relaxing evening for your guests after a day of conference sessions can be just the thing they need to unwind.  Consider hosting a late-night movie for a time of relaxation and fun.  (In addition to offering this as a late night option, you can also plan a movie night as a simple, stand-alone event.)

Here are a few things to keep in mind when planning a movie night:

  1. Know your audience. It can be tricky to pick a movie for a group of people.  If you are hosting a women’s retreat, it’s probably not best to choose an action based movie.  If hosting a men’s retreat, a romantic comedy is unlikely to draw a crowd.  While you won’t be able to please everyone, pick something age-appropriate and group-appropriate.  It can be hard to draw a line at what movie rating you will hold to, but knowing your audience and the purpose for your retreat can give you a better grasp on where to land.  Two good websites for movie reviews are and
  2. Keep it legal. Have you ever read the copyright warning shown at the beginning of a movie?  Movies are typically for private use.  You have to obtain permission to show a movie in a group-setting.  Christian Video Licensing International ( is a great website offering copyright coverage for thousands of movies.  For minimal fees, you can show movies at your event without fear of copyright infringement.
  3. Know your venue. Hosting a movie night for a group is not the same as hosting a movie night at your home.  Think big, as in a big screen and big sound.  A simple TV will not suffice.  Work with your venue on a larger projection system and sound system for an impressive movie experience.  In addition, think about seating for your guests.  While you may not be able to bring in couches or large floor pillows, you can still make sure the chairs are padded and arranged in an inviting fashion.  (If possible, hold a contest where the winner gets to sit in a recliner you bring in for the event!)
  4. Kick it off with great snacks. When I think of going to see a movie, popcorn is first on my mind.  Include a popcorn bar with various toppings and mix-ins.  If you have access to a popcorn machine, this will provide a more theater-like atmosphere, but don’t be afraid to pull out the big bags of pre-popped popcorn if that will make things easier for you!  Other snacks could include candy, sodas, pretzels, chips and salsa and more.

By incorporating an evening movie option in your event, you can provide guests with a chance to sit back and relax for a bit.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does need to be well-executed.  You can make it as elaborate as you desire, but in the end, guests will remember the time they had to share a laugh and unwind after a full day of conference gatherings.  Other than set-up and clean-up, there isn’t much you should have to do in between (except enjoy a bag of popcorn), which is a huge plus for you as an event planner!


Creating Wow Factors

Every two years the world is treated to an evening of incredible displays of artistry, creative combinations of dance, costumes and music and an impressive parade of nations. A few nights ago, the Rio Olympics kicked off in typical fashion with the Opening Ceremony. Fireworks, a substantial projection system turning the floor into an artistic canvas, lights, costumes, music, dance. As with every Opening Ceremony, I sat and thought “wow” multiple times throughout the course of the evening.

Wow factors. A quick Google search leads to this definition: “qualities or features that are extremely impressive.” No matter the size of the event you are planning, it’s possible to include your own wow factors throughout. While it’s safe to say 99.9% of the events you plan won’t be to the extreme of an Olympic Opening Ceremony watched by millions throughout the world, you can still wow your audience in memorable ways.

As you plan your event, consider these two questions when you brainstorm wow factors you can implement:

  1. Is this worth the time, effort and cost it will take to execute? Recently, the Democratic National Convention concluded with their usual balloon drop. However, this year they amped up their tradition by dropping a colossal 100,000 balloons. While it was impressive, the event planner in me immediately wondered, “Who has to pop all of those balloons after the convention concludes?” The time, effort and cost involved to inflate, hang, release and deflate these balloons were big feats. The spectacle was heavily talked about on social media. Was it worth it? While I can’t speak for the convention, I can say as a spectator I was completely fascinated as the balloons continually fell from the ceiling. I can’t say the same for the people in charge of popping all of them, however!
  2. What is my purpose for including this wow factor moment? I went to a conference that launched with a marching band going up and down the auditorium aisles. The goal was to get the crowd excited about the event from the very first moment the session began. Did it work? With the entire crowd on their feet, it definitely gave the conference an opening momentum that carried throughout the event.

Moments that make your audience say “wow” can go a long way in encouraging a guest to return. Each idea doesn’t have to be bigger and better – as an event planner this can become a huge distraction if your time is consumed by creating a few big moments. By providing new and different ideas throughout your event and ones that follow, the conference momentum can be great and leave your crowd wondering what might happen next!

Five Steps to Finishing Well

After the final guest is gone, the last box has been packed and the lights are turned out, event planners can breathe a sigh of relief and take a few moments to savor the best moments from the past few days.  However, once the event is over, a planner’s job is not complete.  There are still a few things needed in order to finish strong.

Here are five steps to help you wrap up your event well:

  1. Review your financials. Keep good records before, during and after your event.  By tracking expenses, you can be prepared to examine all of the bills you receive for accuracy.  Read the details – you may be charged for something you did not request.  If you see something unexpected, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification.  Pay all of the bills on time.  This will further a successful relationship between you and your various vendors.
  2. Send thank-you correspondence. Handwritten notes are a great touch to your keynote speakers and special guests, your venue coordinators and volunteers.  Emails can be sent as a follow-up for event attendees.  Make sure this is done promptly after the event is over.
  3. Follow-up with your event staff. If possible, gather them all together for a recap meeting.  Ask them specific questions relating to the event, as well as how they personally feel after the event.  Because you cannot be in all places at once, your staff are your eyes and ears on the ground.  Use their experiences from the event to assist you as you plan for future ones.
  4. Review surveys and other attendee comments from the event. Follow-up with any guests if their remarks warrant additional conversation.  Don’t take criticism as an attack against you and your planning skills.  Look at it constructively; some things are completely out of your control, while other things may need to be reevaluated for future events. Take good notes on what worked and what didn’t.  Evaluate everything from start to finish.
  5. If your event will happen again, begin working with your vendors to get potential dates on the calendar. If you are already penciled in for following years, begin the contract writing process for the nearest event if necessary.

Finishing well is vital to a successful event.  Finishing well builds positive relationships with your vendors, leaves a good impression with your event attendees and might encourage them to register again.  It makes your volunteers and other staff feel appreciated.  Finishing well helps you effectively prepare for future events you will lead.

Finish well.  And then, sit back, relax and have that cup of coffee with no strings attached.

What about you?  What other steps do you find important to finishing well?


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!


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


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!


Grace for the Moment


The sound system breaks.  The printer ink runs out.  The speaker’s flight is cancelled.  The catering is late.  The event programs are still in the home office.  The registration line is out the door.  The attendees are complaining about the temperature of the meeting room.  The bathrooms are backed up.  The event signage is portrait, and the sign holders are landscape.  The power goes out.  The battery light on your phone is red, and you can’t find the charger.

Have you ever experienced any of these event frustrations?  You’ve planned.  You’ve prepared.  You’ve organized.  Yet, there’s one thing that creeps up unexpectedly (or in many cases, lots of issues arise), and the way you react can have a domino effect over the course of your event.

Here are three things I have learned throughout my time as an event planner:

  1. Expect the unexpected.  When dealing with people, places and technology, there are so many things out of your control.  When unexpected issues arise (and they undoubtedly will), pause and think logically about how best to take your next steps.  Your team will follow how you react to the situation. If you are calm, cool and collected, your team will follow suit.  If you show a sense of frustration or panic, it’s likely your team will respond in the same way.  While you cannot predict the unexpected, you can expect it will happen.
  2. Don’t let a surprise ruin your event.  Embrace creative ways you can respond to the unplanned situation.  Once I was at an outdoor concert when the power went out.  What could have been a quick cancellation with angry concertgoers turned into a very personal, acoustic session with the band sitting on the edge of the stage that was unforgettable. See how you can turn the unexpected into something even better.  Like the concert I attended, it might just turn out to be one of the most memorable moments of your event.
  3. Pray for grace for the moment.  Perhaps the most important thing you can pray for yourself before an event is that you will have grace for each and every moment.  Pray you will react to every situation with grace and love, kindness and gentleness. Moments will undoubtedly come that test your patience – either with a guest, a team member or the event facility staff.  Pray others will see Christ through you in every encounter you have.

When it comes to event planning, you can’t control many outside circumstances.  However, you can control how you react to them.  By preparing yourself to expect the unexpected, embrace surprises and show grace in each moment, you will find the event much more enjoyable!