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!

Don't Let Your Events Get Stuck In A Rut

Chris Adams recently posted an article entitled “RETHINK Women’s Special Events” (read here) on her WomenReachingWomen blog. Chris works in the women’s ministry area here at LifeWay and you may remember her from a podcast we posted last year on how to create a standout women’s event (listen here).

In her most recent post, Chris challenged women ministry leaders to RETHINK their annual events and decide if they needed to continue doing them, or try something else. After reading the post, I contacted Chris and asked her if she’d be willing to take that process a little deeper for our MinistryServingMinistry readers.

Below are her responses to our follow up questions. While her answers are specific to women’s ministry (her area of expertise), I believe the principles can apply to any meeting, event or retreat.

MSM:  Almost every event has its own traditions and people who say, “We’ve always done it this way”. While tradition can have tremendous value/equity, what advice would you have for planners who are striving to break free of repetition and reinvent new traditions?

Chris: Evaluate the last event. Look at what worked, what was effective, what wasn’t. Also listen to what attendees say, if there is a pattern to their comments, it will help direct future events. Did you see changed lives? If so, what elements led to that? Take a look at dates that you have ALWAYS done an event, are women still able and willing to attend those dates/times of days.

Having “dreamers” serve on your women’s team and especially on event teams will help keep from becoming stagnant and doing the same ole, same ole just because it’s always been done that way. Evaluate who you are not reaching and analyze what it might take to tap into those pockets of women not involved.

Include women of different generations, and especially young women, to begin to develop new traditions while still using those former ones that are still effective. Sometimes you may need to move slowly, changing a little at a time, to be sensitive to women who have been a part of the planning of events a long time.  Add only a few new things and then re-evaluate again to keep it fresh and relevant.

MSM: Just because something is working ok doesn’t mean it might not benefit from a closer look and evaluation. Sometimes you may even need to break something that’s not broken in order to make it better. What do you see as the downside risks for a planner who operates by the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” motto?

Chris: The down side is that you might not even ask the questions to discover the real results of an event. Perhaps you still have women attending in good numbers and no one really complains about the program elements. Everyone is happy doing the same things over and over, and not move out of their spiritual and relational box to experience deeper spiritual truths. It may take an innovative leader with a vision for “more” to move women out of their comfort zones and into those deeper walks with Christ. The purpose of any ministry event should include, in addition to fellowship and building relationships (and of course great food!), reaching the lost and helping believers grow in their spiritual walks. Is that happening in any way through your event? If not, the motto will truly be a hamper to helping women move one step closer to Christ in their journey.

MSM: Sometimes planners will add a new element to an event and the response the first year might be less than overwhelming. If that were to happen with one of your LifeWay Women’s events, how would decide whether or not to give it a “second chance”?

Chris: New things sometimes take a while to catch on. But if even a few women are changed because of that element, and they go back and tell someone else, the fire is lit! I remember the first time my former church offered the very first Beth Moore video Bible study. Many didn’t know her and not ever done an in-depth study. But when those women finished the study (and even as they were in the midst of it), they talked about it with others. The next time the study was offered, numbers grew and more women studied God’s Word together.

It may be that you just need to tweak that new element to make it even more effective next time. If you offer a ministry or missions project as a part of an event, the first time maybe only a few are involved. But for those few, and for the ones who received the ministry, it was so worth it. If it becomes a part of each event, it will be seen as “normal” and more may become involved.

Again, ask the women as you evaluate each event.  See what they say, keeping in mind, you will always have some who never like anything you do!  But watch for those “patterns” in the responses so you can get a picture of the effectiveness and lives that have been changed.

Think your event might be getting stuck in a rut? What can you do to get it back on track?