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.

 

Who’s on Your List?

I am a big fan of awards shows—the Grammy Awards, the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes, the People’s Choice Awards. You name the show, I typically enjoy watching it. I like to see what the stars are wearing, however subtle or bizarre. I love to see the opening number and the musical performances and collaborations. I enjoy discovering the menu of the dinner at the Golden Globes. As an event planner, the logistics of such events leave me in awe. The magnitude of people (and egos), the numerous set changes and the overarching weight of live television are all extremely large tasks to undertake.

When I think about awards shows, however, another important element comes to mind—acceptance speeches. I am always amazed at what people use their platforms to say. Some thank any and everyone. Others have a few specific people to mention. Still others use their moment at the microphone to spread a political or social agenda. As I watched the Grammy Awards this past week, I paid extra attention to the speeches of the winners. The first award of the night went to a rapper who repeatedly gave all the glory to God. As I listened to his words, I thought, “Who would I thank if I was in his shoes?”

It’s always interesting to see how different winners come to the stage for acceptance speeches. Some are prepared, with notes on what to say so they will remember everyone they want to thank. Others come to the stage seemingly without having thought twice about what they might say. Regardless of how they give an acceptance speech, one thing is true for all of the winners—they didn’t get to this point alone. Countless people have helped them get to this stage.

When it comes to event planning, you can’t do it alone. Those who help you plan and execute your event need to receive your gratitude, whether that is from the stage or on a more personal level. Just like some award winners pull out a list of people to thank when they accept their awards, keep a list of people you need to thank as your event unfolds. At appropriate times—either before, during or after the event—make sure to offer appreciation (whether spoken or written) for those who helped you bring the event to fruition. Some people you might include are:

  • your planning team and event staff
  • volunteers
  • event attendees
  • your family (for the support and time they give you to carry out your events)
  • the host location
  • speakers, worship leaders, workshop teachers and other conference guests
  • most importantly, God.

Who is on your list to thank after an event? How do you offer thanks to those who make your events possible? Comment in the section below.

 

When Life Hands You Snow

You’ve heard the saying, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” What do you do when life hands you snow? Make snow cream?

As I write this first post of 2017, I am looking out my window into a winter wonderland, coupled with frigid temperatures. I can’t help but think of all the events taking place at conference centers located near my home. Some events have been canceled; others decided to brave the weather.

As an event planner, there are many things you can control—weather is not one of them. Rather than throwing up your hands in despair at impending (and often inconvenient) weather, think of ways you can embrace it and even incorporate it in your event.

Here a few ways you can add to a guest’s experience in the midst of snow:

  • Place hand warmers (the kind that fit in your gloves or pockets) in registration packets guests receive upon arrival. You could also pass these out at the door as guests leave a large group session.
  • If you have extra staff or volunteers, clear the snowy windshields of guests prior to the last session.
  • Set up a hot chocolate bar for guests to enjoy during the evening. Include hot chocolate and toppings such as whipped cream, marshmallows, syrups, chocolate candies, and sprinkles. (For an added twist, serve up a hot chocolate float—add a few scoops of ice cream to your hot chocolate. It’s hard to describe the goodness of such a treat, but I would definitely recommend trying it, if only for a tasty treat for yourself!)
  • Host fireside chats in the evenings. If your lobbies or other meeting spaces have fireplaces, light a fire and invite speakers, worship leaders, or workshop teachers to spend a candid time with your guests. Ask them to share on a more personal level and give guests the opportunity to ask questions. Sometimes, some of your best moments can be in the relaxed, non-structured conversations that take place throughout your event.
  • Most importantly, make sure the walkways are cleared of ice and snow. If you must, grab a shovel and do it yourself.
  • If many guests have to cancel, yet your event is still taking place, consider recording the large group sessions and uploading them for later viewing.

While inclement weather can be an inconvenience and may even lead to canceling an event, there are ways you can adapt your program to incorporate its challenges. And, if you’re all out of ideas and there is fresh snow on the ground, grab some vanilla, sugar, and milk and have a snow cream party!

 

‘Twas the Night Before My Big Event

In the spirit of Christmas, I hope you enjoy this adapted version of a holiday favorite!

‘Twas the night before my big event, when all through the venue

Not a creature was stirring, except me, still going over the catering menu.

Did I order enough? Will the coffee be hot?

Gluten-free, vegan, nut-free—did I miss an allergy they’ve got?

 

“Ding” went my text alert—my main speaker just landed.

Fifteen delays later, just grateful he wasn’t stranded.

Sound checks could wait; I’d make time for those.

A panic quickly struck me. What if no attendee shows?

 

When all of a sudden, there arose such a clatter.

I ran to the auditorium to see what was the matter.

My stage set had fallen, the props in a heap.

How could this happen? It wasn’t at all cheap.

 

I sat on the floor. Should I cry or should I run?

I was frozen, in a stupor, what could be done?

All by myself, I thought, what a nightmare!

If I canceled the retreat, would anyone care?

 

I heard a door open and in walked my team—

Janet, Peter, Bill, Jim and somebody named Jean.

Tools at their ready with duct tape in hand,

My volunteers in their matching shirts at my command.

 

They shouted in unison, “Never fear, we are here!”

Jumping onstage, that mess would soon disappear.

Faster than lightning, in the blink of an eye,

That stage was reset and they all said goodbye.

 

“See you tomorrow,” I said with a smile.

In the morning this would all seem like such a small trial.

I’m sure more things would come my way,

But tonight, I thought, I should call it a day.

 

Past the registration area, straightening name tags on the table,

I’d try to get a bit of sleep, “Wait, did I remember the HDMI cable?”

As I walked through the front door out to my rental car,

I heard a quiet voice saying from afar:

 

“You’ve planned, you’ve prepared, you’ve got it all done.

Sit back, relax, and don’t forget to have fun.

Things might go wrong. You’ll figure them out.

For now, Happy Event Eve!” the voice said with a shout.