The Pros and Cons of Virtual Meetings

I recently attended my first virtual meeting, a three-hour training session for an upcoming project. Here are my top two takeaways from that virtual experience. First, I can’t think of anything more awkward than looking at your own face next to the faces of others on a screen for an extended period of time. Second, I love the aspect of not having to travel a great distance to get to that training.

As with any meeting, whether onsite or online, there are both positives and negatives that go along with the setup. When looking at virtual meetings, specifically, here are a few advantages:

  • No travel costs. The virtual meeting I was a part of recently is typically an onsite meeting I attend involving extended car travel, hotel stays, and meals. What typically costs them thousands was “virtually” eliminated.
  • You can cover more information in a condensed time frame. It’s inevitable – when people are together, they talk. From casual conversation and personal dialogue to brainstorming sessions and extended discussion, the time frame of an onsite meeting will be longer than a virtual meeting. When people gather for a virtual meeting, the small talk is typically at a minimum, as attendees seem to be focused and ready to work.
  • It’s simple. Software companies such as GoToMeeting and Zoom have made virtual meetings an easy reality. Setting up an online meeting isn’t complicated, and companies such as these offer excellent support.
  • It’s comfortable. Virtual meetings can take place anywhere, anytime! From the comfort of your own home or office, you can attend a meeting in a familiar atmosphere.

In addition to these benefits, though, there are a few disadvantages:

  • Less personal connection. The one thing I missed about the virtual meeting I recently attended was the connections I made with other attendees in years past. While personal relationships aren’t always necessary between those attending meetings, for some types of groups, these greatly benefit the outcome.
  • Technology doesn’t always cooperate. Internet connections fail. Computers have glitches. It’s a risk you have to take when relying on technology to carry your meeting.

Some meetings can be handled virtually. Others cannot. I think a mixture of the two can be a great way to save money, increase efficiency, and place value on your attendee’s time.

From an event planner’s perspective, virtual meetings can be a great way to gather a team of leaders who may live throughout the country to regularly meet for progress updates. While an onsite, in-person planning session can be a great way to jumpstart planning for an event and build relationships among your team, follow up meetings can easily be arranged virtually.

 

Cost Saving Tips

This week we are exploring ways to cut costs when planning an event. Cost-saving measures are often necessary, and there are plenty of ways you can reduce your costs without sacrificing the quality of your program. Here are a few:

Food:

  1. Cater a continental breakfast rather than a full breakfast meal. Not everyone eats breakfast, so providing something like this can save money, especially for those who will not eat.
  2. Is there a fee for bringing in outside food? If you can bring your own snacks, this could be a cost-saving measure. Not every venue will allow outside food, so make sure you know the policies before you plan.
  3. Instead of a plated and served meal, can your guests go through a buffet line? This is a way to cut costs yet keep the quality of food the same.

A/V and Conference Set-Up:

  1. Does your venue allow you to bring in your own sound technician? If you have a qualified person on hand, this could provide a big cost savings.
  2. Does your venue have items you can use for stage design? Props, lighting, and furniture can add to your stage set-up, and they might be included in your venue price.
  3. Rent vs buy: Can you simply rent a piece of equipment you might need rather than buy it? On the other hand, if it is something you will need repeatedly for other events, investing in it initially may save you money in the end.

Housing Accommodations:

  1. If you have a large conference staff you will be covering the costs for, consider asking them to room with another person rather than each person having their own individual room. If they do not wish to do this, ask them to cover the additional cost for an individual room.
  2. Can your event conclude after an afternoon session rather than an evening session? Many times the only thing the final morning of an event is breakfast, so if that is the case, is there a way you can shorten your event to avoid an additional night of housing?
  3. Save your nicest rooms for your platform speakers and VIP guests. In addition, if you have a room block consisting of deluxe or standard rooms, place your event staff in standard rooms. They typically cost less.

Program:

  1. Consider putting all the material you would typically print in a digital format for your attendees. Create an app to showcase all of this information including handouts, schedules, venue maps, and other details.
  2. Platform speakers and worship bands can be expensive, depending on their levels of familiarity with your audience. Look at the schedules of those you are interested in and see when they might be close to your event venue. You could possibly share the costs with another event to lessen travel expenses.
  3. Is there someone you know in your church or local area that could serve as a speaker or worship leader? Don’t discount the fact there are qualified people right in your backyard!

What cost-saving measures do you take when planning an event? Comment below!

 

 

Questions to Ask When the Numbers are Low

Sometimes event registration doesn’t go quite as well as we hope. The number of attendees we plan to have are not as high as we need them to be. In fact, the event might be on the brink of cancellation due to low attendance. (How do you know when to cancel? We’ll discuss that in another blog post soon!)

When the guest numbers are lower than expected, here are questions you can ask to gain a better understanding of why you may be in this situation:

  • Have you marketed the event well? Whether through social media, mailouts, personal invites, emails, flyers, radio or other marketing means, do people know about your event?
  • Is this an event people want to attend? Does the theme entice people to come? Do people want to hear from the platform speakers? Would you want to attend your event if you were a paying guest?
  • Is the event location convenient? Do people have to travel too far? If flying, are there clear instructions on how to best get to the event location from the airport?
  • Is the price reasonable? Too high, and you’ll limit your number of guests because people can’t afford it. Too low, and you might run into people thinking the event isn’t high quality.
  • What is the weather typically like during the time of your event? If it is a snowy season, guests may be hesitant to book travel.
  • Is the time of your event conducive to the guests to which you are marketing? For example, a senior adult retreat can more easily occur during the week than a marriage conference where couples may have to secure childcare or take off of work.
  • Are there competing events during the same time? In addition to other conferences, are there events that might affect a majority of your guests? These could include graduations, sporting events, holidays, etc. If attendees are coming from the same area, and your event is planned for the weekend of the high school state football tournament, this might be a reason numbers are low. If you are planning a men’s event, have you looked to see when the next major sporting event near your date is?

At the end of the day, sometimes we can’t explain why event registration numbers aren’t what we had hoped, expected, or budgeted. It’s natural to be disappointed, but, if you ask yourselves the above questions, perhaps you can get a better understanding of the whys to your low numbers. If it’s not too late, you can act on these, as well. For example, market your event if there is still time. Change the date if it is a possibility. Adjust the pricing structure if it fits within your budget. You can’t plan for every situation, and you can’t please everyone with the date your event falls. However, with a little pre-planning research, you can hopefully avoid a low attendance.

 

Back to School Shopping … for Events

Can I let you in on a little secret? Back to school shopping isn’t just for kids returning to school! It’s a great time for you, an event planner, to stock up on basic supplies and necessities you may need for upcoming events, especially if you are not part of a larger organization able to order in bulk from office supply companies.

In addition to great back to school prices on office supplies, many states offer tax-free weekends where you can save additional money on school necessities and computers.

Here is a list of items you can typically find discounted during back to school sale events that you may want to stock up on for future events:

  • Pocket folders
  • Binders
  • Pens
  • Pencils
  • File folders
  • Spiral notebooks
  • Sharpies
  • Binder clips
  • Copy paper
  • Dry erase markers
  • Staplers
  • Staples
  • Paper clips
  • Post-it notes
  • Highlighters
  • Markers
  • Index cards
  • Scissors
  • USB sticks
  • Tape
  • Office storage supplies

Even if your event isn’t for a while, stocking up early is a great way to save a little extra money. For some event planners, saving a hundred dollars here and there isn’t really a necessity. For others, it can be the difference between providing something extra for your attendees or not. I’ve programmed events where literally every penny mattered, so finding simple ways to save money was vital.

Back to school sales aren’t the only times to look for items you can find at discounted prices, however. Sales around Thanksgiving and Christmas (specifically Black Friday and Cyber Monday) typically offer excellent deals on things such as board games. This can be a great time to pick up extra items to have available for guests during afternoon free time or evenings sitting in hotel lobbies.

With a little forethought and a willingness to brave the sometimes crowded stores offering deals, you can save money in your planning process.

What about you? What do you like to stock up on before an event? Comment below!

Benefits of a Conference/Retreat Center

Determining a venue for an event is one of the foundational elements of event planning. Where will your event take place? What are your facility needs? Where will attendees travel from to attend your event? These are just a few of the questions you will have to answer as you begin to find an event location.

Some events are best suited for large cities with many hotel choices, easy airport access, diverse restaurants, and highly-anticipated tourist stops. Others are more suited for “off the beaten path” type venues. Regardless of your event type, knowing your planning team and guests’ expectations and your venue’s ability to fulfill those are both equal parts of the formula for a successful event. Have you considered a conference/retreat center to be your one stop shop for your next event?

Here are a few benefits of choosing a conference/retreat center:

  • Everything is in one location. Housing, food service, and conference spaces are all centrally located. Typically, all are in easy walking distance for guests. Attendees can return to their rooms without the hassle of needing a car (which inevitably leads to the dreaded finding your car, paying parking fees, and then searching for a parking space upon your return).
  • Conference centers foster community. With your guests in one location, there are enhanced opportunities for conversations to take place and relationships to form. Walking to and from various facilities, eating meals together, and conversing in common areas after evening sessions are just a few of the ways conference centers can provide outlets for community and networking.
  • Transportation is a little less complicated. This is a twofold benefit of a conference center. First, if guests or event staff are flying to the destination, they can be shuttled in groups to the conference center. Because transportation most likely won’t be needed while on property during the event, this will eliminate the need for rental cars, thus saving money. Second, once guests arrive, if they drove, they can leave their vehicles parked throughout the event, thus avoiding parking fees and the stress of trying to find parking spaces in crowded lots or streets.
  • Equipment is often readily available without a rental company. While this isn’t always the case with every need, conference centers will often include equipment in the price or at a discounted rate. For example, at Ridgecrest Conference Center, use of the large auditorium includes audiovisual equipment such a full range PA and sound board, lighting, and projection. What could cost you up to $10,000 per weekend from a rental company is included at no additional charge if your group meets requirements for this facility. Fees from rental companies do not include the labor to run it, and most conference centers have staff on hand to run these at minimal or no additional cost.
  • On-site recreation and other activities can enhance free-time. Many conference centers have recreational activities on site. These often include high ropes courses, team building elements, hiking trails, disc golf, and basketball/volleyball courts. In addition to recreation, conference centers often have gathering places like coffee shops and other purposed locations to get away, reflect, and relax.

Conference/retreat centers aren’t for every event, but they provide the perfect location for many. If you’re looking for a conference/retreat center, check out ccca.org or iacca.org.

 

Event Planning 101: Budgeting

Budgeting is an integral part of the event planning process. In fact, creating a budget is one of the foundational steps to developing your event logistics. While there can be an element of “guesswork” in budgeting, it is vital to your event’s success. If creating a budget seems a bit daunting, consider this basic premise: don’t spend more than you have! Here are a few helpful hints as you begin your event budgeting process:

  1. Know what you need. Make a list of everything you need for your event. Marketing, speakers, worship leaders, audiovisual rentals, travel, printing, venue, caterings, office supplies—be thorough as you brainstorm. As you develop your list, include subcategories for broader items. For example, “office supplies” might encompass everything from name tags and Sharpies to large post-it pads and dry-erase markers. While you don’t have to list basic supplies such as paper clips and staples, be on the lookout for more “out of the ordinary” items that you don’t have on hand and will have to purchase. In addition, create an “emergency” category for all of the unexpected expenses that will undoubtedly arise (and often break your budget).
  2. Know what it will cost. Once you have your list of items, determine cost estimates for each of them. This will take time, but meticulous research will only benefit you in the long run. Separate expenses into two categories: fixed and variable. Fixed items are those that will be the same price regardless of how many attendees you have. These include costs such as speaker fees, audiovisual rentals, venue expenses, and pre-event marketing. Variable costs are those that fluctuate based on the number of guests attending and can include catering, housing, printing costs, event supplies, etc. As you record costs, err on the side of higher amounts. This will give you a greater financial cushion.
  3. Know your bottom line. Consider these two factors when determining your bottom line: will your organization be supplementing any costs and what will your program fee be? In order to determine a program fee, it’s important to know your financial purpose. Are you just trying to break even for your event, or are you trying to make money? In order to budget for a break-even event, determine a realistic number of guests you expect to attend. Be conservative! Divide your expenses (determined in step 2) by the number of attendees expected. This will give you an estimated program fee. If your organization will be supplementing any costs, factor this amount into your expenses prior to developing your program fee. As you analyze this fee, think about what your attendees can realistically pay. You can create a great event, but if the fee is too high, your attendance will be limited. If you hope to make money, set your program fee at a higher rate than needed to simply break even.

Budgeting is a tedious process, but careful planning can allow you to create the best “bang for your buck.” Budgeting conservatively can also give you the freedom to have a few extras if your event registration comes in at higher numbers than originally planned.

 

Contracts 101

 

Event planning and contracts … the two go hand in hand. For seasoned event planners, contracts are often second nature. For new event planners, contracts can seem daunting with the legal jargon. This blog post is here to help.

What is a contract?
A contract is simply defined as an agreement between two or more parties. It is legally binding in a court of law. Contracts are in place to protect both parties.

Do I have to sign a contract?
Yes! If a company doesn’t offer you a contract, request one. This is your safety net when it comes to executing your event.

Who signs the contract?
This can be a little harder to clearly define since your church or organization might have rules set in place. Make sure to contact those in leadership positions within your organization prior to signing a contract. The person signing may be held financially responsible.

What should event contracts include?
It is not uncommon to have contracts with multiple entities. Depending on your event logistics, you may have contracts with a venue, hotel, guest speaker, worship band, rental companies, catering companies, etc.

Every contract should include dates and rates. Dates can include the actual event date plus any type of cancellation policies. For contracts with speakers or bands, clearly defined travel arrangements should be included. Contracts with musicians and some speakers also come with riders, documents explaining technical and hospitality needs. Rental and catering companies should include specific items requested and set-up/tear-down times, as well as dates to give a final guest guarantee. Housing contracts should include room types and dates pertaining to when and how room blocks can be adjusted (and any related financial impact).

In addition, all contracts should have an “Acts of God” or “force majeure” clause in the event a natural occurrence cancels or significantly alters an event.

What makes a contract binding?
In the past, verbal contracts were solidified by a handshake, or, if the parties really wanted to reach an agreement, the handshake might include spitting on the hand prior to the shake. Thankfully, spitting on hands isn’t a common practice today. Contracts are fully executed once signed by both parties. In some cases, a deposit might be required, as well.

What should I do before I sign a contract?
READ IT. All OF IT. And read it again. Know what you are committing yourself to before signing the agreement. Be detailed as you go through each section. Have another person read it, as well. As you work with contracts from different entities, cross reference them to make sure there are no discrepancies. For example, if your venue states you cannot bring in outside food, yet your worship band requires a certain type of food in their green room, you’ll need to make sure the catering company through the venue will be able to provide that and at what cost. Read it … and read it again!

What should I do after I sign a contract?
Keep a copy on file to refer to as needed. Also, go through each contract and note deadlines for various tasks. Schedule these on your calendar a week prior to when they are due in case you need to complete any additional work to meet that deadline. Deadlines could include room block adjustment dates, guarantees for catering, housing lists and room set-up forms turned in, and so on.

Event planners, don’t be afraid of contracts. Contracts are put in place to protect both you, your participants, and those you are working with. Realize they are legally binding, and you will be held to the terms of the agreement. Read them carefully. If you don’t understand something in the contract, ask prior to signing. Understand what you are committing to before you commit to it.

 

Ideas for Planning Unplanned Free Time

Free time can be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, you want to give your participants time to rest and relax. On the other hand, downtime can lead some guests to ask, “What can I do now?”

Oftentimes, free time in an event schedule is intentional. This could take place in the afternoon after a morning of workshops or in the evening after the main session. As an event planner, it can be a challenge to know how much to plan or how much to “let happen” on its own.

Sometimes, however, downtime at a conference happens unexpectedly. Perhaps the hotel accommodations are not ready upon check-in. An activity may be rained out without an indoor alternative. Your main sessions may dismiss much sooner than expected.

A great option to have on hand for free time (both planned and unplanned) is an assortment of games to play. These can include board games or simply decks of cards. If you regularly host events, you might consider investing in a supply of games. Otherwise, you can ask some of your event team if they are willing to bring games from home or invite your guests to bring their favorites. If you are in need of ideas, here is a list of great group games that are easy to learn, easy to set-up, and easy to engage others:

  • Apples to Apples
  • 5 Second Rule
  • Bananagrams
  • Catch Phrase
  • Spot It
  • Decks of cards (Spoons, Hand and Foot, Crazy Eights, etc.)
  • Uno
  • Phase 10
  • Jenga
  • Blokus
  • Mexican Train Dominoes
  • Scattegories
  • Balderdash
  • A to Z
  • Rummikub

Some of your guests’ greatest memories may come from time spent around tables playing games after a day of teaching sessions. In the midst of the laughter and a little friendly competition, your guests can experience fellowship in a relaxed environment.

What are some of your favorite board games to play with a group of friends? Share them in the comment section below.

 

Tips for a Memorable VIP Basket

Speakers, workshop presenters, worship leaders/bands and event leadership often go to great lengths to prepare for and attend an event. While this is the full-time occupation for some of them, many must take off work, travel and spend countless hours in preparation. Obviously, monetary compensation is expected for some of these, but others work out of the desire for the event to be the best possible.

Regardless of whether event VIPs are paid or volunteer, welcome baskets in their hotel rooms are a great extra touch to show how much you appreciate what they are doing. Here are a few tips when putting together a VIP basket:

  • Container: You don’t have to use a basket! In fact, if your special guests are traveling by plane, a basket is not conducive to travel. Consider using a gift bag or something easily collapsible instead. Also, choose a container that coincides with the size of items you are placing inside. A full basket, no matter how big or small, will speak volumes to the recipient.
  • Quantity: Be reasonable with what you place in the gift basket. If your event is one night, don’t include five pieces of fruit or enough snacks to last a week. Include one or two bottles of water, a few snacks, one or two pieces of fruit and a few extra items.
  • Contents: In addition to small food items, include a local product if possible. For example, find a local store that sells small jars of honey, locally roasted coffee beans, handmade soaps or homemade chocolates. If you offer to include a business card with the item, some local businesses may give you a discounted price.
  • Quality: Don’t buy cheap candy or snacks. Buy “the good stuff.” It may cost a little bit extra, but your basket recipients will appreciate the gesture. If you include fruit, make sure it is fresh and without bruises.
  • A Few Extra Tips:
    • If you know a person really loves a certain type of snack or drink, try to place that in his/her basket.
    • Think practical. Include gum and breath mints. You could also add a pack of Shout wipes, wrinkle spray or dental floss.
    • Include a hand-written thank you note.

These tips will help you create a memorable VIP basket. Make your baskets ahead of time with non-perishable products. On the day of your event, you can easily add any last-minute items and then deliver them to the hotel rooms or have the front desk hand them to the guests at check-in.

Five Spring Centerpiece Ideas

Spring is in the air for many of us. Though the calendar marks the first day of spring this year as March 20, the daffodils are on display, the tulips are peeking through and the trees are in bloom here in North Carolina.

Spring provides a plethora of ideas for event decorating. Whether you are hosting a women’s retreat, a fundraising dinner or an adult conference, here are five ideas for centerpieces that can work well for banquets, round table event seating or registration/information tables.

  • Flowers, flowers, flowers: Embrace the season’s colorful offerings and liven up your tables with mixed arrangements including tulips, irises, hyacinths and daffodils, to name a few. Instead of typical vases, consider using objects reminiscent of spring, such as rain boots, metal watering cans or ornamental bird cages.
  • Butterflies, Bees and Ladybugs: While bugs aren’t the first choice for a centerpiece, highlighting some of the more charming insects and creatures of spring can be a fun, colorful way to decorate a table. (For the good of your event, please avoid mosquitos, stinkbugs, crickets and spiders.)
  • Gardening: Use items such as pots, small gardening tools, seed packets, watering cans, wide-brimmed hats and gardening gloves to create festive centerpieces. (You could also use these as door prizes at the conclusion of the event.)
  • Outdoor Activities: When you think of spring, getting outdoors is something that quickly comes to mind. Highlight springtime activities in your décor, including kite flying, riding bicycles, hiking, camping and even yard work. While you won’t be able to put a bike or lawnmower on the table, look for smaller replicas or items that relate to these.
  • Easter: If your event falls before or near the Easter holiday, utilize baskets, dyed eggs, green grass, tulips and colored ribbon to create themed centerpieces.

Once you settle on a specific theme for your tables, scour the internet for ideas on how to incorporate that into a centerpiece. The pictures you find will, hopefully, spark the perfect idea for your event.

If you can’t decide on just one idea for a table centerpiece, choose different themes for each table. No one said every table must be the same! In order to avoid a “hodgepodge” of centerpieces, however, stick to a similar color scheme throughout your room. This will bring everything together and create a spring-filled atmosphere!

What have you used for springtime centerpieces? Share in the comments section below.