Grace for the Moment

 

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

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

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

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

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

Ask the Expert – Setting the Stage with Lights

When you meet Jen Baker, it’s very quick to see she has a passion for stage lighting.  She serves as the Lighting Designer at Ridgecrest Conference Center and has been involved with technical services for eleven years.  Lighting is more than a job for her – in fact, when I asked her how she views her work with lighting as a ministry, she said:

One of the first things God created was light.  I have always taken that as without light we cannot see the beauty of the Master Artist and His creation.  Light has the power to illuminate, sculpt and create an atmosphere.  Lighting is a tool that can be used to help break down the barriers during worship and create a safe place for people to enter in worship.  My place as a lighting designer is to visually interpret the message being communicated, whether in song or spoken word.

Needless to say, Jen knows lights and knows them well.  I recently spoke with her about elements of lighting for events of various sizes.  Here are some of the highlights I took from our discussion:

  • Utilize color schemes to create the atmosphere/mood of your session. You can create a warm, cozy feeling with warm tones such as soft white, amber, oranges, purples and reds.  High energy effects can be created through yellows, oranges, greens, whites, light blues and pinks.  For a slower, more intimate time, utilize blues, pinks, purples, reds and some greens.  When in doubt, always start with blue or white.  It is a good, neutral color that works well for any type of atmosphere.
  • If you have a contemporary band, a few lights in the right place with some uplighting and backlight can give you the same experience as a big stage, in a more intimate setting.  If you just have a speaker, lights across the back wall, on either side of the projector screen or around the room can make the room less boring, more intimate and give your audience something to look at.
  • If you have banners or a small stage design, adding lights to highlight can make it pop. It will draw attention from the first moment your guests enter.
  • You don’t have to use only stage lighting to enhance your set – you can use lamps, LED rope lights or candles that change colors.
  • Always be strategic in where you place your lighting or what you are highlighting. You can get away with fewer fixtures by doing this.
  • Don’t let it get you down if someone doesn’t like the color choice or effect you choose. You will never please everyone.  Individual audience members differ in their sensitivity.
  • If you have a worship leader, try to work with them and help create an atmosphere that enhances their song choices.
  • When it comes to power, make sure you get enough extension cords to make everything neat. Always buy black.  Nothing is worse than bright orange extension cords running across the front of a room.
  • The most important thing of all: Gaff Tape!  Do not use duct tape to tape down cords.  It leaves residue; gaff tape will not.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Jen, it’s that you can do a ton of creative things with lighting to enhance your event space.  You don’t have to be an expert in technology to incorporate basic additions with lights.  While we will leave the large event spaces to the professionals, you would be surprised what a few lights and a little practice can do!

 

 

Ask the Expert: Ordering the Perfect T-Shirt

This week we continue our “Ask the Expert” blog series.  I recently discussed apparel giveaways for events with Royleane Allen, CEO of 413 Strengthgear, Inc.  413 Strengthgear was established in 2003, and Royleane has 15+ years of experience in the industry.  She offered excellent advice on ordering T-shirts for both the experienced and new event planner!

  1. “This is my first time ordering T-shirts to give participants at my event.  What general tips can you give me?”
    The first thing to consider is the demographic of people attending your event so your vendor can design and source the best product for your attendees.  A couple of questions could be:  Are attendees mainly male or female, what is the age range and what type of event are you hosting (ministry, outdoors, entertainment, etc.)?  Knowing these elements will allow your vendor to help narrow down a design catered towards your audience.
  1. “I’m not a graphic designer by nature – how do I know what color T-shirt to order?”
    There is not a right or wrong when choosing a T-shirt color.  We typically show the trending colors for that season and then go back to what type of consumer will be purchasing or receiving the T-shirts.  Figuring out gender, age group, style preference, etc., help determine what will be best.  For example, someone 50+ might like a more classic color such as heather grey or navy.  Right now someone in their 20s might like colors currently trending such as mint, mango or island reef.
  1. “I forgot to ask for T-shirt sizes in my registration process.  Any advice on how to order when I don’t know what sizes I specifically need?”
    For an adult event, when ordering unisex T-shirts, a very general retail ratio would be a breakdown like S-1, M-2, L-2, XL-2, XXL-1.
  1. “I have a limited budget.  What are the best cost-saving measures when it comes to designing T-shirts?”
    T-shirt pricing is based upon the garment style, the number of imprint locations, the number of imprint colors in each location and the quantity being ordered.  To help lower cost, limit your number of imprint locations and colors.  The garment style plays a large part of the cost, based on what brand and type you are ordering.  Ask what the best price point garment is that your vendor carries, and they can direct you accordingly.
  1. “Other than T-shirts, what are your top three non-apparel giveaways you recommend for event attendees?”
    Our top three non-apparel giveaways are coozies, hand sanitizer and pens.  Other close follow-ups would be sunglasses, chapstick and lanyards.

It’s amazing to see Royleane’s passion for her job.  It’s definitely more than just designing an awesome T-shirt!  She sees camp/conference merchandise as opportunities to open doors that may spark conversations about an experience at camp so others may have the opportunity to go and experience them, as well!  What might happen if we decided to think of our conference giveaways as more than just something to hand out, but rather an opportunity for attendees to later share about life change?

Ask the Expert: Making the Most of Your Snack Breaks

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the course of my life, it’s this: Never be afraid to ask for help. That is the premise for the next series of blog posts, “Ask the Experts”. Regardless of your event planning situation, it’s likely someone has experienced it before. Seeking help from outside sources can not only save you time and energy, but it can also help your event run smoothly.

Catering snack breaks can be a daunting task for new event planners. I recently had the privilege of discussing a few catering questions with Marcus White, Food Service Director at Ridgecrest Conference Center. Marcus has been in the hospitality and food service industry for over 30 years. He offered great advice on catering snack breaks.

  1. “I’ve been asked to plan snack breaks throughout my event. Quite frankly, I’m nervous. What general tips can you give to ease my fears?”
    Typically, snack breaks are the easiest type of service to provide for you and your group. I would recommend that you let us (the catering provider) know the time of day you are looking for, how many guests you plan to have in your group and the general types of items you want. If you know your group is mostly ladies (or mostly men or children) for example, we can help you create the best options for you from our menu.
  2. “My event attendance could be anywhere 50 to 100. How do I prepare when I’m not sure how many people to expect?”
    This question is often the toughest for an event planner to decide. Each group is different, but typically we recommend you guarantee your count on the higher end of the range. We understand you want to be good stewards as you guess your counts, but truly there is nothing more embarrassing or frustrating to the guests themselves, the group’s leadership and even to our own team when a group guesses low and we run out of food. This is one reason why we have made our snacks and breaks menu mostly individually wrapped and sealed items so if there are any leftovers, some groups may choose to keep some of those items and use them at a later time during their event.
  3. “I’m afraid I won’t have enough food and/or drinks. Are there standards as far as food and beverage quantities to prepare?”
    That is a great question. There are standards we use based on our past experiences with similar groups with similar menu choices. If you let us know what your group number maximum is and what you want to guarantee for, we will use that experience and help make sure there are plenty of snacks. Most of the time we are very close to accurate amounts and, of course, we can often supply more items if more guests show up than expected or guaranteed.
  4. “I know a lot of people have food allergies and some people are just picky. How can I make sure everyone is satisfied?”
    The best way to make sure that most guests are satisfied is to offer a little more of a variety as opposed to just one item for a snack break. The greater the variety the more likely that most everyone can at least find something. You can take a look at our Snack Break Menu for a few ideas: Snack and Breaks Service.

While providing food for breaks may seem like a big task, a little thought-filled planning can put your fears at ease. A big thanks to Marcus White for sharing some of his expertise in this area!

 

National Day of…

February 14.  April 1.  October 31.  These are all dates we can easily match to an “official” day – Valentine’s Day, April Fool’s Day and Halloween.  Does September 19 mean anything to you?  Probably not, but if you’re anywhere near a Krispy Kreme Doughnuts on this day, you may run into people dressed as pirates and ordering in a pirate voice.  It’s National Talk Like a Pirate Day.  Krispy Kreme has embraced this as a promotional tool for their doughnuts.  It’s fun.  It gets people excited.  People of all ages participate.

When planning an event, you might need a little extra “something” – this may be an activity, a giveaway, an evening event or just an extra from the stage.  Depending on the dates of your event, it might just fall on a “national day” you can integrate.  A simple search on the website nationaldaycalendar.com (or other national day website) can give you detailed information on fun days you can celebrate throughout the year.

Here are a few I found that could easily be incorporated into event planning:

  • January 19: National Popcorn Day (How about a popcorn bar after the evening session?)
  • February 10: National Umbrella Day (Use umbrellas as a giveaway with your event logo on them.)
  • March 23: National Chip and Dip Day (Serve a variety of chips and dips for your afternoon break.)
  • April 20: National Look Alike Day (Let your guests know ahead of time and have a look alike contest during your event.)
  • May 14: National Dance Like a Chicken Day (Nothing says “wake up” in your morning session more than having your entire group get up and dance like a chicken!)
  • June 23: National Pink Day (Let your guests know before the event to wear pink, and serve pink lemonade and other pink snacks during your break.)
  • July 23: National Vanilla Ice Cream Day (If you’re serving lunch, have ice cream for dessert.)
  • August 12: National Middle Child Day (During a large group session, have all of the middle children stand up and clap for them; trust me (as a middle child myself), they will appreciate it!)
  • September 12: National Day of Encouragement (Leave slips of paper in chairs for guests to write an encouraging note to the person sitting next to them.)
  • October 28: National Chocolate Day (Chocolate fountain?  Chocolate bars?  Chocolate pie?  The possibilities are endless!)
  • November 17: National Take a Hike Day (As an afternoon activity, plan a hike for your guests – don’t forget the trail mix!)
  • December 28: National Card Playing Day (If you’re looking for a late night activity for the night owls, have various card games for guests to play at their leisure.)

While these national days may seem a little far-fetched, they can add a fun element to your event!  Once you plan your dates, do a quick search and you may find an activity perfect for your group!

Nine Ways to Improve Guest Experience

Thom Rainer recently wrote an article entitled, “Nine Surprises in Worship Services that Made Guests Return.” Rainer, based on a recent Twitter survey, described events that impressed guests and made them desire to return. As I read this article, I noticed a few trends that could easily translate to your next event.

Here are the nine factors Rainer mentioned with an explanation of how they relate to event planning and improving attendee experiences:

  1. “Someone had an umbrella waiting for me in inclement weather.” In the event of less-than-desirable weather on registration day, have volunteers available to assist guests as they enter. Remember, first impressions are key!
  2. “A member actually invited me to lunch.” While this doesn’t translate completely to conferences, is it possible to have volunteers available to sit with attendees who may be alone at tables? This can carry-over to break times, as well.
  3. “The kids area had leaders who were friendly and helpful.” If your event will have childcare, make sure leaders leave parents with assurance their children will be well taken care of. Parents will enjoy their time much more if they are not worried about their kids.
  4. “There was a time of meaningful prayer.” Can you incorporate a prayer experience in your large group session? Prayer shouldn’t be an after-thought if your conference is worship-focused. If your event is more corporate-focused, are there ways you can integrate prayer for your organization?
  5. “Someone walked us where we were supposed to go.” Often conferences are in unfamiliar locations to the guests. While you might not be able to have staff available to escort guests individually, clearly marked volunteers (perhaps they have on the same t-shirt) are a great asset.
  6. “There was genuine friendliness outside of the stand and greet time.” Make sure your volunteers and staff are genuine and excited to serve. People can easily spot someone who has a less-than-stellar attitude. The overall demeanor of your team can set the entire tone for your conference attendees.
  7. “People followed up with my prayer requests the next day.” Follow-up with your conference attendees if they have a question, concern or general comment. If possible, address these immediately and face-to-face. This will show you value their opinions and genuinely care about their experiences.
  8. “I loved having the opportunity to speak with the pastor.” Is it possible to have event speakers available to the attendees? This might not be a possibility due to the size of your event or the notoriety of your speakers. However, if your event is a bit smaller and more intimate, consider having a meet and greet time with your speakers and/or worship leaders.
  9. “I received a gift at the end of the service.” Don’t let your guests leave empty-handed. At the end of the final session, have a small treat from a local bakery available or hand them a small snack bag and water bottle for their drive home.

Which of these points could you implement as you plan your next event? While you don’t have to incorporate all of them, choose a few you can do effectively. Adding these special touches can be just the thing a guest needs to sign up for your next event.

Christmas Centerpieces: A Community Effort

If your schedule during the holiday season is anything like mine, I guarantee you are constantly on the run from Christmas party to Christmas program to Christmas service to Christmas cookie exchange. While most events held around the holiday season are typically scheduled for an afternoon or evening rather than an extended overnight retreat, there is still much planning to be done to make your holiday gathering a success.

Two red Christmas baubles and colorful lights

In the midst of planning during this busy season, I have found it often helpful to involve others as much as possible. As with any event, big or small, you don’t have to do it all by yourself. People often are more than willing to help if their tasks are bent toward their strengths or something they enjoy.

One of the simplest ways to involve others in holiday gatherings is for assistance with table decorations. This allows them to take some ownership in the event, as well as helps cut costs in your event budget. Here are a few ideas to include others in creating centerpieces for events where your guests will be seated at multiple tables.

  • • Nativity Scenes: Many people have very unique nativity sets in their collection of Christmas decorations. Ask a few of them to bring their nativities to use as centerpieces for each table. These can be great conversation starters, especially if the nativity’s owner is seated at that table. You can complement these with sprigs of festive greenery or small candles. (Don’t underestimate the fun that even a Fisher Price Little People nativity set can add to the decor.)
  • Christmas Dishes: Consider having different guests play “host” to a table by bringing their own Christmas dishes to use. Set tables with their dishes (plates, bowls, glasses, etc.) and any extra pieces they may have. Again, these can be great conversation starters when guests are seated.
  • Ornaments: Ornaments can be used in a variety of ways as table decorations. For example, you might ask each guest to bring their favorite ornament and display it in a festive basket or Christmas greenery placed in the center of the table. One activity could be to tell your table the story of what makes the ornament so special. Another option might be to have each guest bring an ornament to give away in an ornament exchange – these can be displayed similarly in a basket or on greenery in the center of the table.

As you plan your Christmas events this year, think about things you already have that could be used for a one-time event. Ask around to see what others may have as they take out their holiday decorations. Most people don’t mind parting with some decorations for one or two days. Sometimes personal decorations can add a really special touch to your event.

Are We There Yet?

It’s a question that’s been asked by millions of children (and adults if we are being honest) over the years. “Are we there yet?” At some point in our lives, we have all been guilty of asking this timeless travel question.

sad kid tired of trip

As an event planner, you spend countless hours planning the activities your participants will experience during your program. But, have you ever thought about what you might plan for your guests to experience prior to the event, such as during their travel to the host location?

Constructing travel kits for a family camp or family-friendly conference is a great way to provide an extra personal touch, a chance to get your guests engaged before their arrival and something fun to do while traveling. You can easily ship these in small boxes a few weeks prior or hand them out if your participants are coming from a single location.

Here are a few ideas of items to include to make your family travel kits a great success:

  • Car window markers: Prior to their arrival at your conference, families can decorate their car windows. You can even give out prizes to the “best decorated windows” during your opening session.
  • Travel games: Include copies of fun travel games such as a “Road Trip Scavenger Hunt” or the “License Plate States” game. Again, these are things you can award prizes for during the opening session if you let your attendees know to turn these in upon their arrival.
  • Snacks: Simple bagged snacks such as pretzels, crackers and candy are easy to include in travel kits. Be mindful of any special diets and/or allergies your guests may have.
  • Team storytelling: Include a few story prompts where each family member can add a line. A possible example is, “There once was a family who took a trip to camp…” Then let each family member add a line to the story and see how it unfolds.
  • Discussion questions: Include a few questions to help engage families in conversation as they travel. These could be funny questions and also questions relating to the theme of your event.
  • A few extras: In addition to these things, you can also provide small items such as stickers, paper, pens, etc.

Traveling can be a stressful part of attending a camp or conference. By providing something as simple as a travel kit, you can help alleviate a bit of the “are we there yet” syndrome and hopefully have families arrive ready and excited about the event.

Simple Thank You Gifts

Volunteers are often a vital part of your conference or event team. From registration to greeting guests, from providing directions to selling merchandise, volunteers can fill important voids for various tasks.

While there are larger incentives you can provide for volunteers (discounted program and housing fees, free t-shirts and other merchandise, etc.), there are ways you can encourage your team throughout the event, as well.

The last time I volunteered at a conference, each day I was given a little “something” thanking me for my service. These were very small, low cost items (typically a food item of some sort) with a clever note attached, left for me at the location I was working.

While these “thank you” gifts might take some time to assemble, many of them can be done well ahead of the conference. The time and effort put forth to create these little extras can help encourage your volunteers as they work throughout the conference. As you prepare these, you can purchase individually wrapped candy/snacks or put unwrapped items in a plastic bag sealed with the note.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Thanks for being an EXTRAordinary volunteer! (Extra gum)
  • You are a LIFESAVER! Thank you! (Lifesaver candy)
  • We MINT to tell you how much we appreciate you! (Any type of mints)
  • It’s been such a TREAT to have you as a volunteer! (Works with any type of snack)
  • Without your help we would have fallen to PIECES! Thank you! (Reese’s Pieces candy)
  • We would be in KNOTS without you! (Bag of pretzels)
  • It’s “o-FISH-al”! You are a great volunteer! (Bag of Goldfish crackers or Swedish Fish candy)
  • Volunteers like you are worth 100 GRAND! (100 Grand candy bars)
  • Just POPPING in to say thanks for all your hard work! (Bag of popcorn)
  • It’s been MOUNDS of fun serving with you! (Mounds candy bars)

Simple yet thoughtful gifts can go a long way in showing your appreciation. Let your creativity shine as you prepare these small thank you items for your event volunteers.

Live Polling Your Audience

I recently read an article by Dan Schwabel entitled “How Millennials See Meetings Differently.” In this article, he highlights ways to better engage this generation (born between 1980 and 2000) in meetings. Schwabel says, “While older
professionals seek the traditional meeting
model, millennials are looking
for something more interactive. Instead of a speaker giving a
presentation for an hour, they
would rather have the majority
of that hour be Q&A. This is a
generation that wants to be heard
and have conversations instead
of listening to a presentation
straight through.”

Schwabel suggests incorporating live polling as a way to actively engage this younger generation. He says, “73% of millennials are interested in being part of live polls during event sessions. They are eager to have their votes count and to be part of presentations in any way they can, even though they are merely a participant.”

So, what is live polling, and how does it work?

A poll is a question or prompt you want your audience to interact with. Live polling means it is done in real-time. Though different companies have different methods for presenting the data collected, most of them allow voting and responses through Twitter, text and/or a website with login information specific to your event. Thus, it is important for your event location to have free Wi-Fi available (another expectation Schwabel shares of the millennial generation).

According to SMS Poll, a web-based polling company, there are very specific benefits to live polling:

  • Find out what your audience is thinking at any moment in time.
  • Grab your audience’s attention by starting your presentation with a thought-provoking question.
  • Actively involve your audience in the presentation – keep them engaged and interested in what you have to say.
  • Increase audience participation through anonymous responses.
  • Allow the crowd to provide instant presenter feedback.
  • Wow your audience with animated charts that update in real-time.

With most web-based polling companies, there are different pricing structures based on number of questions asked, number of participants and how the results are processed. By researching various companies, you can choose the polling program best suited for your event. Here are a few you could start with: SMS Poll, Poll Everywhere, Audience Opinion and AnswerQwik.