Mini Break Out Sessions VS Half Day Seminars

Educational conferences typically schedule break out seminars for 30 minutes to an hour. Today I’d like to look at two other extreme options. The five to ten minute mini session and the half-day seminar.

When would these be useful and appealing to your event attendees? Only you can best answer that question. But here are some hints.

  1. What’s the goal? Is it to write and read through scripts? 5 minutes is not going to be enough! But a four hour block might perfect.
  2. Do you have a very popular personality? Either could work for this. 5 minute mini sessions could really help “spread” the exposure of the celebrity around, but it would also jack up the appeal of the longer time. Who wouldn’t want four hours of expert opinion on a topic you need in depth training on?
  3. Break down a complex topic. What if your attendees have a wide range of needs? Some pros and some newbies? This is a great time to break up a topic. For example, if you have one speaker who is an expert on homeschooling, instead of one session, she could do multiple sessions: Planning Tips for Younger Children, Scheduling Your Day, Curriculum Do’s and Don’ts.
  4. Require registration into longer sessions. If you’re offering a long, intense session, you might need to require prep work from attendees. Having people sign up ahead of time can really help.
  5. What percentage of the conference can be dedicated to the break out sessions? If you’ve only got two hours then a few mini sessions sprinkled in amongst the 30 minute options could help people feel like they’ve had access to more information. Of course, don’t offer tons of mini sessions separate by zero breaks and long distances!

These two options shouldn’t show up at every conference, but they can help serve some unique needs. Have you ever used either of these? What were the pros and cons you experienced?

Rainy Day Ideas

How often has this scenario come to life in your student event planning?

You’ve planned a perfect afternoon of outdoor camp activities.  You’ve got everything set up and are just waiting for your group to come and enjoy the festivities.  And then, the thunder rolls, the lightning strikes and the rain begins to fall.  Your perfect outdoor activities are rained out.

Child Rainy DayWhat do you do when your camp activities are cancelled due to rain?  As much as you watch the weather forecast and even pray for a dry day, there is one thing that will always be certain…weather is unpredictable.  Storms can arise when we least expect them.  As an event planner, you should be prepared for the unexpected, especially when it comes to rainy day activities.  Here are a few ideas you can have on hand when the weather might alter your plans.

•    Board Games – Bring an assortment of board games to the retreat for a relaxed afternoon of indoor fun.  These could also be placed in a lobby for late night game time.
•    Movie Day – One of the easiest things to do on a rainy day is to show a movie.  Make sure to have a movie that is appropriate for all guests.
•    Local Attractions – If there are indoor, local attractions such as museums, shopping centers or family-fun centers, you could spend a rainy afternoon here.  Keep in mind there may be an added cost for some of these places.
•    Rainy Day Games – A list of games to play indoors is great to have on hand when your outdoor activity might be delayed but not completely cancelled due to weather.  These could include an indoor scavenger hunt, large group games or team-building activities.  A great online resource can be found at Ultimate Camp Resource.
•    Crafts – Indoor activities such as making jewelry, scrapbooking or painting stones can offer a low-key rainy day alternative for your more crafty guests.
•    Play in the Rain – Not all of your outdoor activities have to be cancelled just because it is raining.  Consider going forth with your outdoor plans if the activity will still be safe for all those participating.

Rain doesn’t have to ruin your retreat!  Be prepared with a few alternative ideas for your guests just in case weather forces you to change your plans.  And, rain isn’t the only type of weather that might make you alter your plans.  Excessive cold or heat can also be a factor in your outdoor plans.

What rainy day activities do you like to provide for your guests when inclement weather arises?  Comment in the section below!

The Power Of Drama

Drama can personalize and explore a topic in a unique and arresting way. I can remember skits and short drama pieces that I saw twenty years ago. They have certainly had a lasting impact! So, how might you incorporate drama into your next event?

  1. Theater maskHire professional actors. This is the more expensive option, but can add a great deal to the overall learning experience for your guests. You’ll need to preview potential hires by viewing their videos, discuss cost and find out what material they already have prepared. I would suggest you connect them with the main speaker as well, so that their teaching lines up with what the speaker is presenting.
  2. Find a drama on video and buy it.  One site that I particularly like is plenty of humor and lots of options! You can find a skit that matches up with your theme, preview it, and then download it.
  3. Buy a skit and find actors. This is probably the most labor intensive of the options. After you find and purchase the material, will you also find and rehearse actors? Sometimes event organizers can connect with a local church or college that can supply them with talent, but be aware that this will take time to set into place.

Dramas are often used before the speaker begins a session. It introduces the topic, and some of the intricacies that people deal with in relation to that topic. For example, a drama on prayer might show a person struggling to find time to pray, to explain it to his/her children, and wondering if it is being effective.  Seeing these issues acted out helps remind and connect the audience to the topic, and gives them a felt need for the information the speaker is about to present.

Have you used a drama team that was professional and high quality? Where do you buy videos or skits? We’d love to know, and share it with our readers!

Creating A Prayer Station Experience

Guided prayer can be a great addition to a variety of worship events.  It can take on a lot of different forms.  One such idea is utilizing prayer stations.  Prayer stations are “stops” in a guided prayer experience in which people are asked to pray in a certain way or for a specific request.  These can be very intimate times of worship for participants.
Praying HandsOver the years, I have enjoyed creating prayer station experiences that are tactile in nature, asking participants to create as they pray.  Here are a few of my favorite station ideas compiled from different events and websites.  At each station (these could be different areas in a room or separate rooms entirely), post signs with instructions on how to complete each activity.

  • The Call to Confess:  In preparation for this station, fill bowls with sand and place them on a table.  Write a word or symbol in the sand in front of you representing something you need to confess.  Confess your sin to God.  As you pray, pass your hand through the sand, obliterating these words or symbols as a sign of accepting God’s forgiveness.
  • The Call to Share:  In preparation for this station, hang a clothesline in the room.  Write the name or initials of someone you know who needs a relationship with God on an index card.  Hang this name from the clothesline.  Pray, asking God to give you the strength to share Jesus with this person.
  • The Call to Intercede:  Take pipe cleaners and craft something you are praying for.  As you spend time making this, pray for God to work in this situation.  When you are finished, take your creation and lay it at the foot of the cross.  (Have a wooden cross in the corner of this station.)
  • The Call to Surrender:  In preparation for this station, post a large piece of butcher paper on the wall with the words “I Surrender” on it.  Write something you need to surrender to God on a post-it note.  Stick this note on the “I Surrender…” wall.  While you post your note, spend time praying for a few others you see, as well.
  • The Call to Adore:  On a board or large piece of paper hanging on the wall, write words describing who God is and how He has revealed Himself to you.  Spend a few moments praising God that He is all these things written on the wall – and so much more!

These are just a few prayer stations you can adapt for your next event.  Have you used prayer stations?  If so, what are some of your favorite stops in this type of guided prayer experience?  Share in the comments section below.

Two Must-Haves for Your Next Marriage Retreat

Scott Darnell, a Sales Representative at LifeWay Christian Conferences has sat in on countless marriage retreats. I asked him what couples consistently said were the most helpful parts of these marriage training events.

1.    Time and Space To Interact With The Material as a Couple. “During our Marriage Impact Retreats, which are smaller weekend events in the summertime, we leave time open during the weekend for couples to enjoy our beautiful location, with hikes, laser tag, a high ropes course. And with no TV in the rooms, there’s time and space for them to talk about what they’ve been hearing in the general sessions, and spend quality time together.” Hearing the training is one thing, having time to discuss it with your partner and apply it to your unique marriage is the important second step.

2.    Small Group Experience. Dividing event participants up into groups of 8 or 10 allows people time to share, listen, discuss and be encouraged. “After the first night, couples really relax into the small group time, they so enjoy getting connected with other couples, hearing where they are in their relationship, and what they are dealing with. I always hear couples say: ‘The weekend was great, we really enjoyed the small group time.’”

LifeWay Conference Center at Ridgecrest hosts a number of marriage retreats, including: a Valentines event every February with speakers like Dr. Gary Chapman and Greg Smalley, Marriage Impact Weekends, and Marriage Getaways in October. With lots of experience hosting and directing marriage weekends, Scott also suggests you talk with your main speaker to ask if they are willing to meet with couples who request counseling time during the event. “Not all speakers are able to do this, but many that I’ve asked have been willing. Even if the speaker isn’t able to provide counseling directly,they almost always bring resources, from books to lists of area Christian counselors that couples could contact.”

Scott adds, “Another option that is extremely popular in our retreats are breakout sessions, covering topics like money, children, and blended families.” This allows couples to choose the topics that are most important to them, and give them some specific ideas and resources.

Thanks to Scott for his time and insight- it’s always wonderful to speak with someone who has lots of experience in organizing a certain type of event. Are you planning a marriage event in the next twelve months? What are you excited to include?

Event Planning Publications

I love print publications, turning the pages, hearing from different authors, tagging articles for reference with sticky notes, and sometimes tearing out photos to add to my idea folders.

If you’re looking for a print publication to help inspire and guide you, you might want to subscribe to one of these event-focused magazines.  Here’s a quick run down of what they offer and how often they are published. All of the magazines listed here are free to receive!

  1. This magazine is geared towards those marketing an event- online, in person, and through print advertising. It is published bimonthly. You can also sign up for a biweekly electronic newsletter.
  2. “Event planning news, ideas and resources.” Published quarterly. If you are a visual person you’ll enjoy the array of beautiful photos on the website and in the magazine.
  3. Inspiration and ideas for faith-based planners. Published bimonthly. Their website site also offers regional guides for different spots in the US for event planners.
  4. From event furniture trends to new airline policies this magazine looks at large and small issues effecting event planners and their many responsibilities. Published monthly.

Where do you need fresh inspiration? Do you need to research new technology, communication or management strategy? Think about your particular needs and how one or more of these publications might serve you. Where do you find most of your inspiration? Please share in the comments section so that others can benefit!

Marriage Retreat Planning Tips

Carol Anderson-Shores and Jim Shores, founders of Acts of Renewal ( use their teaching and acting talents to lead marriage seminars all over the United States. They have performed at over 60 colleges and universities, and at Christian conferences including: FamilyLife and Focus on the Family and at several marriage weekends here at Ridgecrest.  I spoke with Carol to find out what they have found make a marriage retreat effective.

Pair of wedding rings in front of red "love". shallow depth of field.Make it interactive. Jim and Carol enjoy inviting their audience to participate in learning. For example, in one skit they act out a marriage spat, and then ask the audience to yell out possible solutions, then they improvise and show possible outcomes to different solutions. Encourage audience participation whenever possible.

Offer practical tools. Spell it out, show when and how to use certain strategies and relationship tools. We’ve all come away from a sermon or book and thought, that was amazing, but how do I actually use that in my day to day life? How can you explain and demonstrate the nitty-gritty of the tools you are providing for couples?

Give participants a chance to practice the tools.  “We weave in times of engaging with the material and each other. How does this material apply to their lives, to their unique marriage?” After instructing on practical strategies Jim and Carol offer times, during their sessions, for couples to practice.  For example: to practice affirmation couples are asked to make a list of 10 things they appreciate about their spouse, and then read the list aloud. Carol shared that this is often a powerful time during a retreat, and that couples then know how to do this at home.

Fresh and active are words Carol uses to describe their approach.  “Listening to someone lecture for an entire weekend, taking notes, then going home and saying ‘that was a good weekend’ and then not being able to remember what was said two days later- that’s what we don’t want.  We strive to involve people in the material, to encourage them, make them laugh, help them realize they are not alone, learn practical tools and help them grapple with how to use them in their particular marriage.” Carol explains.

Hopefully this interview has given you lots of ideas on how to make your next marriage retreat more interactive and effective for couples longing to build a healthy and God-honoring relationship.

Organizing a Fundraising Event

Unless you are hosting a group of multimillionaires, your fundraising event is not going to make much money.

What? You’ve poured hundreds of man hours into planning, and spent money on entertainment and, or a meal. So, why plan a fundraising event? To bring attention to a cause or organization and to establish and strengthen relationships with donors who will give over time.

To do this difficult work of establishing and strengthening relationships be sure to include the following items in your fundraising event:

  1. A call to action. Don’t let your attendees wonder what you want them to do. Sign up to volunteer one weekend in the next two months? Give money towards a specific goal?  Make this clear!
  2. Multiple ways to get involved. People’s health, schedule, financial and family circumstances limit and gift them in different ways. Do you have multiple opportunities for people to get involved with the cause or organization? A mother with children may not be able to clear an entire Saturday to help, but she might be happy to come by your office and pick up envelopes to stuff for a big mailing. Vary the options for your volunteers.
  3. Nurture relationships with follow-up. As the fundraising event coordinator it may not be your job to follow-up with the attendees. But, even if it is not, be sure you get enough information from everyone that follow-up is possible. Fundraising is all about relationships. Call the people who give, sign-up, and volunteer. Thank them, take them out to lunch, ask why they are passionate about the cause and how they envision helping in the next 12 months.

Organizing a fundraising event comes with its own strategies and challenges.  I hope these tips will help make your next money-raising event a success!

Creating a Great Stage Design, Part Two

In continuation of our last blog post about creating great stage designs, Jordon Rudesill, Director of Service Programming at The Journey Church, shares insights into designing effective, portable stages for your next retreat.  Here are the last four key points I learned from our discussion.

studio in old wooden room

  1. Utilize various materials for different stage sets.  Coroplast sheets are a good option.  They come in different colors, are lightweight and are extremely durable.  Recyclable materials are also a good choice – pallets, construction materials, cardboard tubes, etc.  If you have the ability to use lighting, find material that reflects light well or that allows light to shine through, almost giving it a glow.
  2. Keep it local. Don’t think you have to do everything on your own.  There are people around you who love to design and build things.  Allow them to use their gifts in a different sort of outlet than how they typically employ their skills.
  3. Consider a generic stage set.  If you will need your set for more than one event, want to put a little more money into creating something “bigger” for your stage or have a small budget for a number of events, consider something you can use over and over again.  By doing this, you can tweak little parts of it to go with different event themes.
  4. If you can’t build it, why not print it?  Banners, posters and pop-up displays are an easy way to bring your theme to life as you plan your set.  They can be a focal point or can serve as space fillers on the stage.  These can be as generic or as event-specific as you desire.  In addition, if you want to print large posters yourself, you can do this with free online programs such as Block Posters and PosteRazor.  These programs allow you to print large size images by breaking them into smaller sheets of paper and then adhering them together.  While this requires a bit of hands-on work, the result can be quite remarkable.

Designing a set can be a bit of a daunting task if it’s something out of your usual routine. However, there are great online resources to help you as you brainstorm for your next event.  These include and

Thanks to Jordon Rudesill for his insight on creating great stage designs!  If you have any tips of your own, please share them in the comments section.

How To Incorporate the Gifts of Spring Into Your Next Event

March 20th was the first day of Spring! Here are a few ways you can open the door of your next event and let a few fresh Spring breezes blow in!

  1. Offer a guided nature tour. Have a local expert point out native flowers and animals to your guests. Or focus on local birds if those are present near your event location.
  2. Host an outdoor picnic. It doesn’t need to be too far afield- find an area of grass large enough and enjoy the warmth of the sun and the smell of new grass.
  3. Tour a local garden. Find a local garden and arrange a tour of their bursting bulbs and fragrant flowers.
  4. Direct guests to a local golf course. Provide free time and shuttles for a round of 9 holes and some quality down time outside.
  5. Serve your guests the flavors of spring. Strawberries, fresh herbs, and asparagus  are ripe and delicious, include them in your menu.
  6. Organize a bike tour of a local area. Provide a shuttle, then bikes and helmets- the breezy freedom of biking is perfect for enjoying the fresh spring weather.
  7. Offer a flower arranging class.  If the weather is too cold to plan outdoor activities, bring the beauty of spring indoors.  Simple flower arranging techniques are easy to learn, and guests can use them to add beauty to their home for many years.

The beauty, flavors, scents and activities of Spring are too wonderful to miss!  So help your guests enjoy them by providing time outdoors, springtime foods, and interaction with the budding flora and fauna.  How do you incorporate the new season into your events?