3 Expert Resources for Conference or Retreat Planning

Need a resource book on Christian conference or retreat planning? Want something written by an expert with twenty plus years of experience?  Here are three books I can recommend.

The Christian Conference Planner by Angela Yee.  Practical and very detailed, this book is packed with useful information. It’s got strategies for developing your event’s goals and purpose, ideas on organizing financial planning and sponsorship development, tips on recruiting effective conference staff, ways to develop the support of the community, step-by-step plans for site selection, samples of forms, checklists, maps, and schedules, ways to maximize technology,  advice from conference planners around the country, and post-conference wrap-up details. (amazon.com) Whew! Buy it here.

The Retreat Leader’s Manual:A Complete Guide to Organizing Meaningful Christian Retreats by Nancy Ferguson.  Sometimes we use the term retreat for any one to two day meeting that takes place off-site.  In this book, Nancy Ferguson defines a true retreat, helps leaders see their deep value and instructs on the details of organizing retreat times of quiet, sabbath, personal growth, reflection and community.  Nancy has thirty plus years of experience, and it seems like she packs much of it into this helpful resource.  You can find it here.

Complete Leader’s Guide to Christian Retreats by Rachel Gilmore  Ms. Gilmore sets this retreat planning resource apart by including six sample retreat schedules, one each for men, women, children, youth, families and older adults. Even if you do have more than the twenty years of experience than the author offers, wouldn’t it be nice to see how someone else molds a retreat around a particular topic or theme? The Complete Leader’s Guide also includes a great list of retreat sites, in case you’re looking for a few fresh location ideas.  You can read more about it here.

Do you have a favorite resource book?  Tell us about it in the comments section so we can all enjoy it!

“Sound Good?” Be Ready To Work With Your Sound Engineer

So much goes into planning an event.  Organizers check in with the caterer, speaker, musicians and a host of others, planning carefully so that everything is choreographed perfectly to accomplish the event goals.

But there is one crucial person often neglected in pre-event planning —  the venue sound engineer.  This person will be configuring the room, running wires, setting up microphones and planning media integration for your event and he (or she) needs to know exactly what you have in mind before you arrive on-site. Lead time gives your sound engineer room to find or reserve special equipment or personnel you might need, the ability to think through possible conflicts or problems, and the opportunity to make suggestions for improvements. Without the appropriate planning and set-up, the group portions of your event could suffer.  Communicating early and clearly with your sound engineer and his team are key to insuring that your ideas will run smoothly on stage. At least a month before your event:

  1. Contact the sound engineer of the venue where you will be holding your event.  Introduce yourself and set up a time to discuss your needs.  If he can’t commit to a phone meeting (often difficult due to the nature of their job) agree to communicate over email.
  2. Think through what you want to see happen on stage during each group session.  Will there be a speaker, a band, a video, a panel of experts?  Consider each of the elements for each session and jot them down.  Talk through these elements with your sound engineer, and ask for questions or input.
  3. If sticking to a strict schedule is important to you, consult your sound engineer on how much time you should add in for moving microphones, changing sets and moving people on and off stage.  An event can easily stretch ten or fifteen minutes longer than you anticipated if you don’t build in time for these necessities.
  4. Be patient and flexible.  You may have been planning this event for a year, but your sound engineer has just a few weeks to learn, design, set-up and run your group sessions.  Given enough forewarning, there’s a good chance he can structure things to your guidelines. But, if you hit a snag during planning ask him for suggestions on a solution.  You are the expert on your event, but he is expert on what will work in the venue. He doesn’t want to see you fail, so enlist his opinion.

Including the venue sound engineer in your pre-event planning ensures less surprises, last minute panic attacks, and reduces the use of the phrase “I don’t think that’s going to work”.  You’ve worked hard to plan a first-class function, and now you’ve taken one more step to ensure your message will be communicated clearly.

Don’t “Take It to the Limit”, Maintain Margin!

Like the margins in a book provide space between the words and the page limits, maintaining margin as you plan and execute an event will provide a buffer to absorb challenges and issues prior to reaching the limits of your event and you!  Consider the following areas in which having margin can make a tremendous difference in the success of your event:

  • Time (Attendees’): Before finalizing the schedule for your event (onsite registration, large sessions, breakout meetings, meal-times, breaks, etc.), review it to ensure your schedule includes some margin.  What if a speaker runs over his allotted time?  What if a catered meal takes longer than expected?  What if there are audiovisual difficulties?  You want to offer your attendees the best experience possible, but keep in mind this includes providing opportunities to network with other attendees, take breaks to refresh their minds and reflect on what they’ve experienced, and not feel rushed throughout the event.
  • Time (Yours): What about your schedule during the event?  Even when things run smoothly it’s likely you’ll be quite busy during the event as you meet with attendees, communicate with the host staff, take care of your speakers, and handle the myriad of scenarios which come along with serving as an event planner.  Consider holding blocks of time on your schedule when you schedule nothing.  Doing so will provide sufficient time to take care of unexpected issues that arise as well as allowing you valuable moments to re-charge your batteries so you can lead your event more effectively.
  • Emotional: Prior to traveling to Africa to pick up the two children we adopted in 2010, my wife and I spent almost two months in a hospital several states away from our home as one of our other children dealt with some health issues.  Suffice to say, by the time we left for Africa we were spent, both emotionally and physically.  While not always possible, taking time to get away and recharge before an event occurs can help an event planner tremendously.
  • Physical: Rest well and eat well, both before and during the event.  Any event planner knows this isn’t always easy, but doing so will provide you with the physical margin you need to be at your best.
  • Financial: Margin is one financial measure of an event’s success.  In simple terms, it’s found by dividing an event’s profit by its revenue.   For example, an event with $10,000 in revenue and $3,500 in profit has a margin of 35%.  Careful budget planning can help ensure you’ll have the funds needed to cover planned expenses as well as those that pop up unexpectedly.  Planning your cash flow will help ensure you have the funds when you need them.
  • Spiritual: As in so many other ways, Jesus Himself served as a model for us in the area of margin by living in such a way that He always had time for what mattered most, the divine appointments with people that came His way each day.  Unfortunately, these unexpected meetings can often seem more like annoyances to a meeting planner low on margin.

If the idea of having margin appeals to you, consider the following resources which have been a great benefit to me in this area:

  • Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard A. Swenson, M.D.: This book is one of the most helpful I’ve ever read (on any topic).
  • Take It to the Limit by Andy Stanley: This six-part sermon series can be found online by searching for North Point Community Church.

Both of these resources will challenge you to live with margin and provide practical ways to help you do so.  Both you and those attending your event will benefit!

Top 10 Posts – 3rd Quarter 2012

Fall is here and I for one can’t wait for the changing leaves and cooler temperatures.   This means the 3rd quarter is behind us and it’s time to share our 10 most read posts over the past 3 months. Hopefully this will help you find a great post you might have missed…

  1. What’s A Hollow Square – As in any industry, hotels and conference centers sometimes have a language all their own. Here’s a little help in translating…
  2. Ridgecrest Recipe:  Rutland Chicken – Have you been looking for something new to do with chicken?  Enjoy and then let us know what you think!
  3. 5 Things To Do AFTER Your Meeting Is Over – Everyone has gone home and you want to relax but here are a few things that still need to be done and will definitely help you in planning future meetings and/or retreats.
  4. 8 Ideas For Promoting Your Church Retreat –  If you don’t also spend time on strategically promoting your retreat, you may end up with a great retreat that no one attends. With that in mind, here are 8 ideas for helping to promote your upcoming church retreat.
  5. 3 Steps To More Productive Brainstorming – Brainstorming with your planning team is a great way to ensure you provide an event your attendees will find engaging and worthwhile.  Here are 3 steps to take that will go a long way to making your next session more productive.
  6. 3 Tips To Creating An Unforgettable Event – Here are 3 tips on how to turn your event into an unforgettable experience.
  7. Creating A Standout Womens Retreat – A podcast interview with Chris Adams and Betsy Langmade, 2 of LifeWay’s long-time women’s leaders sharing what they’ve learned about planning women’s events.
  8. 5 Tips For Programming Effective Youth Camps – Brian Mills serves as student pastor Long Hollow Baptist Church and is passionate about reaching young people for Christ. Here are his thoughts on how to program your youth camp for maximum spiritual impact.
  9. 7 Tips For Getting The Most From A Site Visit – Once you decide to make a site visit, here are 7 tips to help you maximize your time.
  10. Meeting Planner Survival Kit – Many planners need to be prepared to address last minute needs and emergencies. Here is a starter list of items you need to have in your meeting planner survival kit to be prepared at your next event.

Which post have you found most helpful?


Resources – July Update

Here is what we’ve added in July by category


Twitter Hashtag Pages – The most crucial social media tool on-site at conferences is the Twitter hashtag…

Site Selection

The Green Meetings Evolution – The meeting and convention industry has made some eco-friendly strides in recent…

Visual Worship – What we see in the world around us deepens our knowledge and understanding of a Holy God and causes us to…


Choosing The Best Speaker – Hiring speakers is tricky business. Will they engage audience members or have them struggling to keep…

Creative Menu Planning on a Budget– Knowing peoples’ eating habits can help you save a bunch at your next event…

Meeting Planners

Meetings Industry Is Moving Forward Slowly – The average U.S. meeting attendee, over the course of a three-day event, uses more than 2,000…

5 New Networking Opportunities at RCMA – Religious Conference Manager Association’s 2013 Annual Meeting offers…

I hope you find these helpful and remember we have many more than might interest you  in the Meeting Planner Resources section of the blog.



Resources – June Update

Here at Ministry Serving Ministry, we are constantly on the lookout for content we believe may be helpful to our readers.  Here is what we’ve added in June by category to our resources.


Understanding Generational Differences – The Key to Attracting, Motivating and Retaining Your Workforce…

Planning a Women’s Retreat and Can’t Think of a Theme? –  There are dozens and dozens to choose from right here…

Site Selection

Safety First – Safety and security planning has long been a hot topic in the meetings and convention industry…


The Great Shift – Meetings, no matter at what level, have a major influence on government, business and organizations…

Teambuilding:  Its Important Role in Stressful Times – When I mention I’m passionate about teambuilding the eyes roll, or look away…

Meeting Planners

Principles of Professionalism – meetings management and meeting professionals under a microscope…

I hope you find these helpful and remember we have many more than might interest you  in the Meeting Planner Resources section of the blog.

7 Post Event Tips

I read a great article by Ashely Muntan, in the Rejuvenate Magazine this week titled “The Post-Event Syndrome”, you can read the full article here.  I have just finished several events at Ridgecrest Conference Center so I found the following items particularly helpful in getting back to the office and getting back to business as usual.  I hope you will find these helpful as you are getting back from your events too.

1. Anticipate re-entry. A roller coaster feeling is inevitable in the event industry and post-program blues can be avoided with proactive disciplines. Mentally prepare yourself for your return, prioritize your to-do list and do not force yourself to tackle all of it in one day. Pace yourself back into a normal routine.

2. Look to your friends and family to facilitate the transition back to daily life. Often family and friends are neglected when planner schedules get busy, and it is important to devote some time to them upon a large event’s completion.

3. Don’t forget: It’s OK to feel excited and pleased with an event’s success. Take the time to reward yourself for a job well done. You have worked long hours pre-event and on-site, and it’s important to give yourself some attention to stay healthy.  Indulge in a relaxing activity, whether that’s an afternoon at the spa or movie theater or going on a long bike ride.

4. Manage the re-entry. Pre-blocking your schedule prior to your departure and managing your time post-event will allow you to find balance and tackle the to-do list at a normal pace.

5. Look forward to going through re-entry again. Managing re-entry and accepting that it’s not easy to get back into a more normal, slower routine can be difficult, but with the right self-discipline, it can be done. Think of re-entry as a reward, not a burden, for your hard work and great event success.

6.  Clean out your email inbox.  Chances are you let emails pile up in the weeks leading up to the event, only responding to the most crucial and time-sensitive messages.

7.  Send thank-you notes.  Since we don’t do it alone, hand-written notes to everyone on your team are necessary and greatly appreciated.

What other tips do you have for getting back into the swing of things?

Are You Considering The 3 "Who's" When Planning Your Event?

Whether it’s your first time to plan an event, or you’ve been event planning for many years, there are 5 W’s that need to be well defined in order to put together a quality event. The 5 W’s to be defined are Who, What, Where, When and Why and it’s critical to address all of them during your planning process. Shortchanging even one can leave you with an event that is less than what it could have been. Over the next several weeks we are going to address each one of these W’s individually and hopefully provide you with a very helpful roadmap to use when planning any future event.

The first W we’ll cover is Who. When it comes to the Who, here are the 3 Who’s you need to consider when planning:

  • Who will be attending? Answering this question really sets the stage for everything else when it comes to planning an event. Many times it may seem like a no-brainer. After all, it’s a women’s retreat Byron. Who do you think’s going to attend? True enough, but don’t stop there. Give serious thought to exactly which women will be there. Single women, single mom’s, mom’s with young children, empty nesters…women from all these groups could be attending and they all have different needs. Going deeper on exactly who will be attending makes it easier to plan everything else.
  • Who will be speaking? Once you know who your audience will be, you can then focus on who will be speaking and/or teaching at your event. It could be multiple professional speakers teaching your attendees about a certain topic… maybe a youth retreat with a main speaker, worship band and a bunch of volunteers teaching the Bible studies…or anywhere in between. A key item to also consider when answering this “who” is cost. Selecting a “famous name” speaker could help boost attendance, but it can also drive up your cost and make it more difficult to not lose money on your event.
  • Who will be working/volunteering? The final “who” to consider is who will be working at the event? When it comes to event workers/volunteers, all I want to say is do not understaff! Much better to have too many workers or volunteers than realize you need four more hands the first day of the conference. Think about all the tasks that need to happen. Tasks such as taking up tickets, helping the speakers, coordinating food, passing out programs and maybe even be a liaison with the host facility. Save yourself a lot of stress during the event and make sure you have enough help.

Any other “who’s” you consider when planning your events?

What's New In Hotel Trends?

As with most industries today, the hotel industry is undergoing constant change. These changes are driven primarily by two factors, an ever increasing need to lower costs/increase effeciency and evolving guest preferences. As a result of these factors, here are 5 new hotel trends I see emerging over the next couple of years:

  • Bathroom – More and more hotels are doing away with tubs and instead creating walk-in showers. An aging population, combined with the fact fewer and fewer people actually use the tub to take a bath, are driving this trend.
  • Workspace – The key here is creating more flexibility. As tablets and smartphones are becoming more the norm, hotels are utilizing smaller desks. Some, such as Hampton Inn, are even placing trays in the room. This allows the guest to choose where and how they want to work in their room.
  • Bedding – Let’s face it, the primary reason people rent a hotel room is to have a place to sleep. It only makes sense for hotels to try and make a great impression with the bedding in their rooms. Now that all the major chains have raised the bar with the quality of their beds and pillows, their next focus is on the bedding itself. The new trend is to go with all white as a symbol of clean. They’re also looking for new fabrics that are more hygenic and stain-repellant.
  • Lighting – Again, with an aging population, there is a trend emerging of more and better lighting access. This makes it easier for older guests to read. I recently stayed in a Marriott where there was a small reading light installed on the headboard, opposite the traditional lights between the beds. Very convenient!
  • Electrical outlets – Gone are the days when you had to move the bed or nightstand in order to charge your cell phone. Hotels are recognizing the typical guest may have 2 or more devices that need to be charged overnight. This has created a need for easier access to more electrical outlets.

Have you noticed any of these trends in your recent travels? What other new hotel trends you’re seeing?