Benefits of a Conference/Retreat Center

Determining a venue for an event is one of the foundational elements of event planning. Where will your event take place? What are your facility needs? Where will attendees travel from to attend your event? These are just a few of the questions you will have to answer as you begin to find an event location.

Some events are best suited for large cities with many hotel choices, easy airport access, diverse restaurants, and highly-anticipated tourist stops. Others are more suited for “off the beaten path” type venues. Regardless of your event type, knowing your planning team and guests’ expectations and your venue’s ability to fulfill those are both equal parts of the formula for a successful event. Have you considered a conference/retreat center to be your one stop shop for your next event?

Here are a few benefits of choosing a conference/retreat center:

  • Everything is in one location. Housing, food service, and conference spaces are all centrally located. Typically, all are in easy walking distance for guests. Attendees can return to their rooms without the hassle of needing a car (which inevitably leads to the dreaded finding your car, paying parking fees, and then searching for a parking space upon your return).
  • Conference centers foster community. With your guests in one location, there are enhanced opportunities for conversations to take place and relationships to form. Walking to and from various facilities, eating meals together, and conversing in common areas after evening sessions are just a few of the ways conference centers can provide outlets for community and networking.
  • Transportation is a little less complicated. This is a twofold benefit of a conference center. First, if guests or event staff are flying to the destination, they can be shuttled in groups to the conference center. Because transportation most likely won’t be needed while on property during the event, this will eliminate the need for rental cars, thus saving money. Second, once guests arrive, if they drove, they can leave their vehicles parked throughout the event, thus avoiding parking fees and the stress of trying to find parking spaces in crowded lots or streets.
  • Equipment is often readily available without a rental company. While this isn’t always the case with every need, conference centers will often include equipment in the price or at a discounted rate. For example, at Ridgecrest Conference Center, use of the large auditorium includes audiovisual equipment such a full range PA and sound board, lighting, and projection. What could cost you up to $10,000 per weekend from a rental company is included at no additional charge if your group meets requirements for this facility. Fees from rental companies do not include the labor to run it, and most conference centers have staff on hand to run these at minimal or no additional cost.
  • On-site recreation and other activities can enhance free-time. Many conference centers have recreational activities on site. These often include high ropes courses, team building elements, hiking trails, disc golf, and basketball/volleyball courts. In addition to recreation, conference centers often have gathering places like coffee shops and other purposed locations to get away, reflect, and relax.

Conference/retreat centers aren’t for every event, but they provide the perfect location for many. If you’re looking for a conference/retreat center, check out or


Meeting Room Setups

You’ve planned the perfect event, selected the perfect location and now you have to turn in your meeting room configurations to your site.  How do you decide what is best and what do all of the configuration types mean? Here is a quick guide to the site lingo that should help you as you work on your details.

  • Theater:  Appropriate for large sessions and short lectures that do not require extensive note taking. This is a convenient setup to use before breaking into discussion groups because chairs can be moved.
  • Classroom:  A desirable setup for medium size lectures. This configuration requires a relatively large room. Tables provide attendees with space for spreading out materials and taking notes.
  • U-shape:  Appropriate for groups of fewer than 40 people. These are best for interaction with a leader seated at the head of the setup. Audiovisual equipment is usually set up at the open end of the seating.
  • Rounds:  Generally used for meals and sessions involving small group discussions. A five foot round table seats eight people comfortably. A six foot round table seats 10 people comfortably.
  • Reception:  Creating an environment for networking with others by leaving the room open typically with stations of food and beverage and seating for about a quarter of your attendees.
  • Hollow Square or Conference:  Appropriate for interactive discussions and note taking sessions for fewer than 25 people.
  • Boardroom:  A lot of facilities have special rooms for small board meetings with a single boardroom table comfortably seating 10-14 people typically equipped with full audiovisual capabilities, a writing board or flip chart.

Remember you might need to specify what you are thinking when you are making arrangements with your location site (as most sites will block space to accommodate the numbers you are requesting in a theater setup) to ensure you are getting the space needed to accommodate your event.

OffSite: Libraries, Universities, Museums, Oh My!

Maybe you are ready to move out of your comfort zone and stage an entire event at a non-traditional venue, or perhaps you need a unique spot to host a VIP luncheon during a larger event. Here are some locations that might be close by and just what you are looking for.

A library. Libraries are often beautifully designed, and sometimes have outdoor patios or gardens. They also usually have community rooms, that seat from 50 to 500 people. Call or visit a library and speak with someone on staff. They’ll let you know about hours, rental fees and food restrictions.

Universities. These can be amazing venues! These beautiful spaces are set up for presentation and group instruction, and usually have a variety of lecture halls and classrooms to choose from. Evenings are a great time to book a group, because most classes are scheduled during the day.

Museum. What a dramatic backdrop for an event. If you can schedule your group during a time when the museum is closed, you’ll have the place all to yourselves. Do be sure to tour the venue during the hours that you’re hosting the group, so that you can check for sufficient lighting, request certain doors (bathrooms) remain unlocked, etc. Talk to group reservations to find out what has worked well for groups in the past.

Historic Sites. Civil war battlefields, traditional farmsteads, two forts, an Indian mound, a president’s home, these are just a few options that popped up when I searched online for historic sites in North Carolina. With ample parking and public restrooms these indoor/outdoor sites have quite a bit of potential for group experiences and meetings.

You’ve chosen your unusual venue, now what about food? If the location doesn’t have a food option, find a caterer, or hire a food truck. A food truck is an especially good choice if the location does not allow food to be served inside. If your group is larger than about twenty, you’ll probably want to hire more than one truck, to avoid long lines.

If you’d like more ideas, check out You can fill out a quick form on the front page of their website with dates, group size and region, and they’ll contact you with a list of venue options.

An unusual location might require a bit more work, but the character and charm it adds to an event is worth it. Just be sure to pick a location that has the ability to meet your needs, so that you don’t spend countless hours trying to fit a square peg into a round hole! Happy planning!

What Event Perks Do Your Guests Enjoy Most?

I’m curious to know what special items or services your guests rave over or request. Please leave a comment letting us know what gets you the most positive feedback. I’ll report on the results in an upcoming post.  Here are some options to choose from- and to feed the ever-hungry idea machine!

Desirable downtown location
Hiking trails
Running paths
VIP Lounge
Luxury bedding in rooms
Free Snacks
All-inclusive meal plan
Theme Park

Free WiFi
Computer stations
Charging stations

Weather Accessories
Bottled water
Water Mist Machine/Outdoor Fan

Complementary books/material
One on one or small group time with celebrity
Free downloads
Video/audio recordings of sessions

Site shuttles (airport or other)

Tips On Scouting a Location

You’re taking a trip to look at a potential site for an event. Here are a few things to remember to help you make the most of your visit.


  1. Make a list of the all the group needs. Do this before you arrive. Prepare and bring as much information as you can on the specific group you are hosting. How many will be staying? What time of day will most of them arrive? Driving cars? Airport shuttles? What will they be bringing with them? Where will the find their first meal? What will they need in their room to get settled in? Be ready to be more focused on your group and exactly what they need, than the location itself.
  2. Start taking notes the minute you arrive. Imagine yourself in the shoes of your event attendees. Where will signs need to be placed? How is the service at the registration counter? Where are the nicest rooms located?
  3. Visit the spaces where main and breakout sessions will be held. Is the seating comfortable? Is the sound system high quality? What visual presentation capabilities does the space have. Go backstage. Is there a green room? Try to visit breakout session rooms when other things are going on outside. Is there audible noise bleed through? In other words, can you hear everything the person next door is saying?
  4. Try the onsite food offerings. Is there a variety? Vegetarian offerings? What meals are available? When do the restaurants stop serving? How is the service?

As you act as a scout for your next trip, all of these questions and experiences will blend together to help you make a decision. Set up a time before you arrive to meet with the head of Guest Services, or whomever manages groups and events at the location. Ask them pointed questions, and go over the list of needs you made before you arrived.

Making a trip to look over a potential location is definitely worth the effort. It is much easier to plan once you have visited a place in person, and it saves unpleasant surprises during the event. Find out as much as you can about your guests before you go, and remember that even the most amazing location may not serve the needs of a particular group.

What question(s) have you learned to ask during a site visit?

Choosing the Right Date for Your Event

There are 365 days in most years.  Know what that means?  There are 365 possible dates for you to plan an event and even more if you factor in an overnight retreat.  That’s a lot of choices!

Calendar with numbers, green thumbtack, recycled paper
How can you know which dates are best for your event?  While there is no perfect formula, here are a few things you should keep in mind when choosing an event date.

  1. Is there a major holiday directly during or immediately before or after the proposed event?  These usually come with travel, family get-togethers and often overbooked schedules, so try to avoid interfering with these times (unless your event is holiday-focused).
  2. Is there a large event occurring in your community during this time?  If so, you might end up competing with this or asking people to choose between a neighborhood event and your event, something best not to do.  An Internet search of “your city” and “events” should give you an idea of what is scheduled.
  3. Have you checked the school calendar?  If you are planning a large-scale event with people from many cities or states, this might be a little harder.  However, look at the areas from which you wish to draw the largest groups of people.  Key dates to look at include back-to-school, winter and spring breaks and graduations.
  4. Are other national events occurring during the proposed event time?  These could include, but are not limited to, elections and sporting events such as the Final Four and the Super Bowl.
  5. Is this an event you want to schedule at the same time every year?  If so, consider a time that can easily be repeated annually.

If there is one thing I have learned in event planning, it’s that you won’t be able to accommodate the schedule of everyone who wants to attend.  This is an impossible task.  Choose the date or dates that work best for the greatest number of people, and be confident as you promote your event.  Early planning on your part might give you an advantage as people plan their upcoming schedules.

Entertainment Industry Secrets

Secrets.  We all like secrets, and today I want to let you in on a few entertainment industry secrets.  I almost feel like a magician letting the cat out of the bag.

Let’s say you’ve had a last minute cancellation.  That stinks!  You and your team have been marketing that this particular speaker or artist were coming.

So what do you do?  Well, let me let you on a little secret.  If an artist or speaker is not playing on the day of your event and you contact them say two weeks out, there is a strong chance that that artist or speaker can be booked for considerably less than there normal asking fees.

As an artist manager, we like to have our artists or speakers working, and if an opportunity comes up on an off weekend, we would encourage the artist to take the date as long as they’re not loosing money.

Here’s another secret: let’s say you have an upcoming event, and you would like a particular artist to preform.  You look at their schedule, they are traveling that day and your location happens to fall between two shows on their schedule.

Artist Managers don’t like artists to be off while on the road.  That day off costs the artist money as they’re paying road manager, band guys and potentially other tour personal to do nothing.  There is a big possibility that the artist will play your event again for reduced money, and as long as the artist is not loosing money, we want the artist to work.

One last secret.  When you’re booking an artist or speaker, their fees are always negotiable.  One of the great things about dealing with a booking agency is they understand the negotiation process and how it works.  They’ll tell you right off the bat if your budget will work for a particular speaker.  Depending on their response, always encourage the booking agent to take your offer to management.  You want the Artist Manager to be the person making the call.

I hope these secrets will help you make your event that much more successful.

The Goal Of A Hospitality Rider

There is a famous story of a big rock band who made an odd request in their rider.  They asked for the brown M&M’s to be separated out from the other M&M’s.  An odd request for sure, but they saw this as a way to test a promoter.  If they walked in the backstage area of the venue and the brown M&M’s were in fact separated, they knew the promoter had read and paid attention to the rider.

A typical rider has two sides to it: technical and hospitality.  We’ve spent some time discussing the tech part, but today I would like to look at the hospitality side.

When you get the rider from the artist, speaker or band you’re having at your event, the hospitality section could appear overwhelming or even that the artist is being a little big headed.

The goal of this section is to make the performer as comfortable as possible at your event.  In case you hadn’t heard, artists are wired a little bit different than the rest of us.  And you’ve asked them to bring their talents to your event.  For them to be effective, they prefer conditions to be a certain way.

As an artist manager, we encourage our artists to make their riders as simple as possible.  We understand the importance of ministry, and the last thing we want, is the rider to get in the way.

Along those lines if you have an issue or question on anything on the artist rider, don’t hesitate to bring that up to the booking agent you are working with or the artist’s manager.  I would imagine their attitude will be the same of not letting any issues be a stumbling block.

What is the strangest thing you’ve seen requested in a rider?  How did you handle with the artist?

Lighting For Your Events

You’re perception of lights is probably that yeah you need some, but you don’t really know how much or what kind of lights that are needed for your event. Just like sound lighting is a specialized area that is important not to leave out. Lights can enhance an event or make it plain blah.

When you’re planning your event, here’s a few things to keep in mind for lights:

  1. What kind of talent will you have at your event? If the event only features authors or speakers, then your event might be able to get away with a spotlight or two. But if you’re having an artist or band, bringing in more lights is very much encouraged and needed to make their time special. (Side note: The act should have a rider that spells out lighting needs. If you did not receive one of these, asking the booking agent you worked with for one.)
  2. What is your budget? Sure you want your event to look fantastic with fancy movers and an LED wall, but that’s going to cost some money. Do you have the budget for that? More lights equals more money.
  3. What do you want the stage to look like? That’s a big determining factor for lights. If you’re going for something dark and moody or you want something bright and cheerful, you need lights that reflect that attitude you’re trying to achieve.

We’ve talked before about communicating your needs to your sound engineer, but discussing light needs with a great LD (lighting designer) is just as important. When you have an idea of what you want your event to look like (number 3 above), communicating that to LD will help you fulfill your needs. Those LDs will have experiences that could even lead you down a different path.

What has been your experience working with lighting designers in the past?

Seasonal Considerations That Could Impact My Event

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine seasonal impact on an event- especially if you are planning it during an entirely different time of year. For each season think through how weather, school schedules, holidays, and venue availability might effect your event.  Here are a few things we have noted about seasons in the south.  See if these observations spark anything you might need to take into consideration for your next event.

Spring:  Weather can be very unpredictable.  Your outdoor team-building exercise may be rained out- so have a great back up plan in place.  It may be 65 and sunny or 50 and rainy, so prepare by thinking through both eventualities and stocking up for both.

Summer: Sun and shade. If you are planning anything out of doors– be ready to provide water and shade.  A friend of mine planned their child’s birthday party outside, and set up a wonderful play area for the children.  Unfortunately, it was an unusually blistering day, and everyone crowded into the only available shade, about five square feet next to a concrete wall.  If it will be hot, plan to make use of available shade from trees or buildings. Purchase some shade tents or umbrellas if necessary.

Fall: School schedules.  Fall is a very busy season for parents and children.  Look at local school calendars before scheduling an event or retreat.  You’ll lose lots of participants if your event is held the night before children go back to school!

Winter:  If you are in an area that receives snow or ice, decide how you will determine if conditions are unsafe, and how you will notify people if they are.  Many radio and television stations will help you broadcast your cancellation, but you will need to set up an account with them first.  If your guests are already on-site, prepare with extra hot drinks and lots of salt-melt.

Year-round: Be aware of conflicts that could make it difficult to book a venue or caterer for your event (like trying to reserve a chapel on a saturday in June) but also use off-season months to your advantage.  Call a few of your favorite spots, and ask them if and when things slow down.  If you’re willing to be flexible you might even be able to negotiate an even better rate.

Instead of wrestling with the season during your event planning, consider it’s challenges, and prepare accordingly.  And don’t forget to choose at least one thing that makes it unique and find a way to highlight it.  You and your guests will enjoy it even more if you do!