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.

 

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!