Are You Considering The 3 “When’s” When Planning Your Event?

I hope you have been following our series on the Who, What, When, Where and Why’s of Event Planning.  If you missed the first two on the  Who and the What, I hope you’ll check out these links now.  But as we are continuing on, the “When” also has three important factors to consider when planning your upcoming event.

They are:

  • When will the weather be ideal? Depending on where you’re going, the when in this equation is important. If you plan on going hiking in the afternoon to take a breather in between two intense speakers, you might not want to plan a trip for the middle of summer in Arizona or the middle of winter in Colorado. If you want to go skiing, well, do exactly the opposite of what I just said. You can even ask the venue staff if it rains extensively in June or if the snow is packed hard enough in January to fit your needs.
  • When can you get discounts? Who doesn’t love a great deal? Does the center you plan on renting have specials at certain times of the year? If you book the venue a few months early, will they knock 15% off the total price? Or, have you rented there before and repeat customers get discounts or extra amenities? Look into this, and don’t be afraid to ask.
  • When are other (competing) conferences booked? This is a 2-parter. First, when you’re thinking of a date, I suggest you have a few in mind; the venue might already be booked for the weekend you really want, but if you have a few more choices, you will be more likely to reserve a week or weekend that fits your schedule. Secondly, you want to make sure that you’re not booking your conference at the same time as another conference in your industry. Adding the stress of competition to your already important planning schedule will not make anything easier. This is an easy way to lose many potential attendees, which is the last thing you’d want!

Can you think of any other “When’s” that I’m missing?

The 4 Rs of Meetings

In the meeting planning industry there are four Rs that apply to every aspect of your events from the pre-planning to the final outcomes.

  1. Relationships – Act on the relationships that are a part of your network.
  2. Relevancy –  Reassess the resources, energy and attention spent on the experience to measure their relevancy.
  3. Reflection – Take the time to engage in personal and organizational reflection.
  4. Readjustment – Ask yourself these questions to increase effectiveness:   1.  What have I learned about myself that I would be wise to carry forward?  2.  What have we learned about our work together that we would be wise to carry forward?

I believe these four principles are vital in our meeting planning efforts.


Are You Considering The 3 “What’s” When Planning Your Event?

Hopefully you read our last blog about planning a great event, entitled, “Are You Considering The 3 “Who’s” When Planning Your Event?” If you didn’t, I suggest you do that ASAP here.

Now, we’re going to focus on the 3 “what’s” of planning. They are:

  • What is the conference going to be about? Obviously, when you’re thinking of who is speaking and who you’re inviting, you’re simultaneously thinking about what the speakers will be talking about. Having some sort of continuity is important at an event, and having the exact idea in your mind at all times will help you stay on target. You won’t know how to advertise or, well, plan the whole event if you don’t know what it’s going to be about!
  • What kind of “vibe” do you want to create? Knowing the overall “feel” or “vibe” of the event will help things run smoothly. For example, if you’re having a serious event, then party balloons, juice boxes, and a cake with sprinkles might not be the best ideas, right? You want this event to be memorable, and you want the attendees to have fun and learn something, so plan accordingly!
  • What important aspects might I be forgetting? Is your event going to have lectures, speaker panels, group work, and/or workshops? Is half of the event outside, with team-building strategies and networking built into the schedule? Will the conference center provide food, or do you need to get the event catered? How many days and how many hours per day are you going to have meetings? Are there enough snacks? Is each presenter going to have a PowerPoint presentation and need a microphone? Is there going to be a dress code? Are you going to allow laptops in the conference room for note taking purposes? Seriously, are there enough snacks? This list may seem overwhelming, and none of these are actually “what” questions, but these are just a few of the vital questions you should ask yourself when you’re thinking, “What?”

Once you know exactly what the conference is about, who is speaking and attending (which we talked about last week), what topics will be covered, what kind of “vibe” you’re aiming for, and the “little” things like if you’re providing notebooks for attendees or not, you’ll be even closer to having a great event!

Can you think of other “what” questions I may be missing?

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?

3 Key Elements Of Planning Your Next Meeting

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a simple, easy to use, never fail template for planning your next meeting or conference? You know, something where all you had to do was plug in your dates and times and in return you get a meeting agenda guaranteed to be a smashing success!

Well, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you…this type of meeting planning template just doesn’t exist. And if it did, I’m afraid it would be so expensive, very few of us could afford to use it!

Every meeting, or conference, is different and the people attending those events are different as well. This means you need to take this uniqueness into account when planning. To help you do this, here are 3 key elements you should consider when planning your next meeting:

  1. Purpose – Why is the person attending and what do they hope to get out of this meeting? Typically people will fall into one of two categories. The first are those who are looking for practical tips they can immediately apply on the job or in their life. The second category are those people who are seeking new information, ideas or trends. It could be both, so you may want to look to balance the practical application with also giving them an understanding of the bigger picture.
  2. Structure – How will the information be presented? Again, attendees typically fall into 2 different camps. Those who prefer a lot of specifics/details and those who prefer the ideas to be presented in a broad, general way. The first prefer a clear agenda and well defined objectives, while the latter are comfortable with a more free flow exchange of ideas. Again, your attendees will probably fall in both camps so be sure to consider how you can appeal to both when planning your sessions.
  3. Involvement – The third element to consider is how your participants will be involved in the meeting. Do your folks prefer to be actively, hands-on involved, or do they prefer to take in a lecture and then reflect on what they’ve just heard? The trend in adult learning is towards more participatory involvement, but you will need to keep in mind some folks will not be comfortable in that type of learning environment.

As we’ve pointed out, chances are good your next meeting will include a mix of learning styles and preferences so be sure to offer sessions that will appeal to both. The key is to know your audience and plan accordingly!

What about you? What planning tips have worked for your organization?




Are You Insane?

Before answering, or shooting fiery arrows in my direction, let me explain why I’m asking this question. I recently read an article on LifeWay’s Women Reaching Women blog that got me thinking. (Those of you who know me, know how dangerous this can be!)

The article was entitled “The Spin for the Women’s Ministry Leader“, and it was aimed at getting women’s ministry leaders to stop and think about how they are doing ministry. To make her point, the author told of an experience she had in a Spin class where the handlebars on her bike became wobbly. As she tried to fix them, she found herself turning the adjustment knob in all directions, to no avail. As the handlebars were coming off in her hands she heard a voice say, “Turning the knob is not going to help anything. It is obviously broken”.

“Wow!” In the business world, I was taught that doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting different results, was a classic definition of insanity. Her point was that this is true in ministry as well. Because we’re out front as leaders, we’re often not willing to change direction, stop what’s not working, ask for help or utilize the talents and ideas of others.

So, when it comes to your events, are you insane? Do you have an event that is declining? Too often the tendency is to think if we just work harder and promote better, attendance will be up this year. That may be true, but several years of declining attendance could also mean the event is dying.

Events are a product and like all products, have a life cycle. Launch, ramp up, plateau, decline, end. The key is to know where you are in the life cycle of the event. If attendance for your event has been declining, here are several questions you need to be asking yourself and your planning team:

  • Is there still a need for this event?
  • Why are people not attending?
  • Has the program grown stale?
  • Am I still excited about this event, or just going through the motions?

Just because your event is in decline doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to go away. Business journals are full of case studies where companies have been successful in extending the life cycle of their key products.  However I’d be willing to wager that very few were successful just doing the same old, same old and expecting different results.


When Do You Pull The Plug?

If you’ve ever planned a retreat or event, you’ve probably lost a little sleep worrying whether or not people were going to sign up. The closer the event gets, the more the anxiety can build up, especially if registration is going slowly. At some point you may even have to deal with the question of whether or not to cancel the event.

One of the many things that separate Christian conference and retreat centers from local hotels is that we also plan events. As a result, we too have to deal with the dreaded question, when do you pull the plug and cancel the event?

Recently I had the opportunity to discuss this question with a good friend, Aaron Ziebarth. Aaron is the executive director for Joy El Ministries, a Christian camp and retreat center located in Greencastle, PA. Since Joy El plans many of their own events (in addition to hosting outside groups), I asked Aaron if he wouldn’t mind sharing some of his experience with the readers of our blog.

MSM – Have you noticed any changes in the reservation patterns for your events at Joy El? If so, what’s changed?

Aaron – We have seen people registering much closer to the event. In 2010, every one of our programmed events was at about 50% of our goal two weeks prior to the event. Under the old way of thinking that would have been a sign I needed to cancel the event. Instead we took it as an opportunity to do last minute marketing through email and social media. The end result was that every event came in with attendance above our goal.

MSM – Are the groups you are hosting experiencing similar reservation patterns?

Aaron – Absolutely! Their participants are waiting until the last minute to register. Unfortunately, since our average group only plans 1-2 events/year, they haven’t developed the same awareness. This results in a lot of stress for the leaders, thinking they may need to cancel the event. Therefore we make an extra effort to communicate these reservation patterns to them.

MSM – When you have an event not booking at the rate you expect, what steps do you take to try and increase your reservations?

Aaron– Great question. I believe it’s an issue of value. Despite the economy, I believe people are still doing what they value most. So, our team reassesses the value this event will provide and we make efforts to communicate this value to potential participants. We do this through social media (primarily our Facebook page) and direct email marketing. On occasion we will also call those who have attended this event, or a similar event, in the past.

MSM – What are the key factors you consider before making the decision to cancel an event?

Aaron – Consideration needs to be given to direct costs and what has already been spent. What is the cancellation agreement with the speaker and worship band? Can we at least cover our expenses if we go ahead and hold the event? As a rule of thumb, we will do everything possible to keep the event going.

MSM – What advice would you give to the meeting planner trying to decide whether or not to pull the plug on their event?

Aaron – Don’t give up if registrations seem low. Communicate the value and benefits of the event to potential participants. Keep promoting through the beginning of the event. Pray hard. Remember, the bottom line is the promise of life change. Do everything possible so your life changing event can take place.

Our thanks go out to Aaron and his team.

What about you? Was this insight helpful? How do you go about making the call to pull the plug on an event?

Avoid These 7 Commonly Overlooked Steps When Planning Your Meetings

Creating and sticking to your budget when planning meetings and events sometimes are two different things.  Here are seven commonly overlooked steps when planning and executing your meeting that can help you stick to the budget.

1.  Allow contingencies in the budget for the unexpected.  Don’t cut it so close that you set yourself up for failure.

2.  Include tax and services charges in the budget.

3.  Include labor costs in the budget.

4.  Communicate clear policies to speakers and staff.  What will you pay for?  Set limits on meals, travel expenses, etc.

5.  Review your master account daily and limit the number of people authorized to add charges to the master account.

6.  Rely on your history not attendance when giving your meal guarantees.

7.  Know the value of your business, when you are negotiating your contracts make sure you are getting the best pricing based on the history of what you have spent in the past both on and off the master account.