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.

 

Ask the Expert: Planning a Marriage Event

Pumpkins. Changing leaves. Apples. The arrival of “sweater weather.” Football. These are all things that come to mind when I think of fall. In addition to hayrides, campfires, and harvest festivals, fall also provides the perfect setting for marriage events. With school in session and daily routines back in play, fall offers a great time to plan an event for couples.

I recently talked with Tammy Slayton, an Event Project Coordinator at LifeWay. Tammy coordinates events such as Marriage Getaways, Fall Celebration, Music City Gospel Singing, and Christmas in Branson. Tammy offered great advice on planning marriage events, and they aren’t just for the fall!

  • “What do you love most about marriage events?”
    Marriage isn’t easy; life gets in the way. I’ve met couples that come to a Marriage Getaway to reconnect and be reminded of how God brings them together to balance and serve one another through life. Then, there are those that have lost hope. I have seen couples come as their last chance and through the event learn how to ask, find, and give forgiveness as our speakers share testimonies and show witness to the power of God in marriages. As one whose marriage was restored after divorce, it blesses me to be able to bring these couples and speakers together to learn that nothing is impossible through God. We need to look to Him and not one another for completeness. Marriage is between two imperfect people who are loved by one perfect God.
  • “What elements do you feel are ‘must-haves’ for a marriage event?”
    • Transparency is a must.  Not one couple has it ALL together, and those that don’t need to see that.
    • Besides the teaching times, couples need time to themselves to have fun, laugh, and talk through lessons they have learned and are still processing. They need to start working on communication that could have been lost between them. (While most need time together, in some circumstances they may need a little time apart to focus on God and the lessons He may be teaching them individually.)
    • Truth! Everyone is so skeptical and mostly for good reason. The world is full of false teachers, liars, tempters, and thieves. A Christian event needs to speak Truth.
  • “What are some challenges you face when planning a marriage event?”
    Marriage events have a stigma that there’s something wrong with your marriage if you attend. Some spouses don’t want to face certain issues that are dividing the marriage, so a marriage event is the last place they want to go. There are many other events, and couples have to decide in which they are going to invest. In addition, there are things such as family, finances, and other responsibilities that may influence attendance at an event.
  • “What advice can you give to someone planning a marriage event for their church?”
    Balance the content. Poll members; ask what they are looking for in a marriage event (like dates, locations, content, activities, etc.). Provide food or refreshments. Pray about those that will speak at the event. Be ready for the fruit; prepare for new believers and those that would want to recommit to Jesus or follow a calling.

If you’re interested in learning more about LifeWay’s marriage events, take a look at their website. Dates for upcoming events will be posted soon.

In Light of Hurricane Matthew…

Earlier this month, our eyes were glued to weather radars as we watched and waited to see what path Hurricane Matthew would take.  Mandatory evacuations were put in motion.  Many people had to pack up and head out, regardless of whatever plans they had already scheduled.

Unfortunately, storms don’t operate on our timetables.  If they did, there would be no need for a Plan B for outdoor events.  So, what do you do when your upcoming event may be in the eye of the storm?  Cancel?  Reschedule?  Relocate?  Continue as planned?

Here are questions to ask yourself as you make weather-related decisions concerning your event:

  1. Does your venue contract contain an act of God clause? (If not, it should!)  Acts of God (or force majeure for the French scholars) are unforeseeable events that are out of human control.  They can include, but are certainly not limited to, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, wildfires and floods.  Melissa Inman, Director of Sales and Marketing at Ridgecrest Conference Center, says, “Don’t panic and cancel too early.  Watch the weather, and then contact your property.  You don’t want to pull out before an act of God clause can be implemented.”  Your venue might make the decision for you if they deem the location to be in danger.
  2. Is it possible to reschedule your event? If this is an option, remember to consider those attending.  While you most likely can’t ask each guest individually, take a poll of a group of attendees.  For those who cannot attend a rescheduled date, refund their fees as an act of good measure.
  3. Could you relocate your event to a place not affected by the weather? Ask your event venue for recommendations if they know your event will be cancelled at their location.  Oftentimes, if an alternate location has availability on such short notice they will be willing to work with you to make your event happen.
  4. How are attendees affected by this weather? Consider your guests and their situations.  For example, a recent marriage conference was held during the mandatory evacuations of Hurricane Matthew.  While the location was away from the storm, many of the attendees were traveling from the affected areas.  They could make the trip; however, they would be leaving their children with caregivers in the hurricane’s path.  As parents, being with their children was more important than attending a conference away from them.  Remember to be respectful of individual situations when people cancel because of the weather.
  5. Are there other ways to get content to your attendees? If the event continues as planned, try to live-stream event sessions or make them available for download to those unable to attend.

A little bad weather, while usually inconvenient, does not have to alter your event as a whole.  However, there are times when weather takes a more active role, and altering plans is necessary.  The safety of your attendees is much more important than carrying out your event in the midst of dangerous weather.

The best thing to do as an event planner in these types of situations is to stay in constant contact with your event venue.  Be proactive, but remember, weather is something out of your control.  Prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.

 

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 commonsensemedia.org and pluggedin.com.
  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 (cvli.com) 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!