Top 5 Posts From 2010

Happy New Year and welcome to our first post for 2011!

As we kick off the new year, I felt it would be good to look back at the first year of our blog. We created to be a resource to those who plan Christian/church events, meetings and retreats. Hopefully you have found our posts to be helpful as you go about doing the work of your ministry.

Just in case you might have missed one, here are the 5 most read posts from 2010:

  1. Creating A Standout Women’s Retreat
  2. Rejuvenate Marketplace: Inspiration For Faith-based Planners
  3. 8 Ideas For Promoting Your Church Retreat
  4. 6 Mistakes To Avoid When Planning A Leadership Retreat
  5. 5 Common Meeting Planner Mistakes

Thank you for helping to make our blog’s first year a success. We look forward to continuing to provide you with helpful information in 2011. Please don’t hesitate to let us know if you have a specific question or topic you would like to see us cover. We’re here to serve you!

Mid-Year Top 10 List

Since our blog is now 6 months old (read post here), I thought it appropriate to list the 10 most read posts. So, just in case you might have missed one, here’s our Mid-Year Top 10 List for MinistryServingMinistry:

Planner's Perspective: Unintended Consequences

The following is a guest post from Dean Jones. Dean is a certified meeting planner and serves as the conference manager for Rejuvenate Marketplace.

James Whitlock is not someone you probably know or have ever met. I don’t know him either, but his story intrigued me and I knew he would be the subject of my next article. The connection starts with my wife (she doesn’t know James either), who is a Nashville kindergarten teacher. The Metro Nashville Public School (MNPS) system built five snow days into the 2009-10 calendar. I realize that many of you from climates cooler than Nashville are already shaking your heads and rolling your eyes — and it’s well deserved. Nashville is a semi-Southern city with 5,600 miles of paved roads and 30 snowplows (actually 28 now — two crashed their first day out this season). Needless to say, Nashville doesn’t deal with snow well. So back to the five snow days: MNPS called off school seven days this winter to avoid potential disasters with buses, parents and kids on the roads.

Seven minus five equals two. Two school days must be made up. The dilemma is how: shorten spring break, lengthen the school year or add additional time each day? The MNPS board chose option three. It made sense. The teachers are already at school, the heat is on, buses are running their routes, and 30 additional minutes a day for 26 days seemed like a logical solution. However, as with many “logical” solutions, there are unintended consequences — enter James Whitlock, time systems lead worker. Mr. Whitlock is the sole employee of MNPS tasked with programming and upkeep of school bells. The logical decision became a nightmare for one employee, with 139 school-bell systems to reprogram.

I have made similar decisions related to my events. They seemed logical on the surface but more thought and feedback from staff or outsiders could have revealed flaws in my logic or perhaps an alternate plan with fewer unintended consequences.

So how do you avoid putting yourself and your events into this position? Whenever you need to make a change to some existing system, program, schedule or event, it’s wise to have a pool of people that can help you evaluate potential decisions and repercussions. This team could be other planners, friends, staff or outsiders, but a combination of all would be a great mixture. Sometimes when we bounce ideas off other planners they only offer us one perspective, but an outsider may offer a totally new perspective that we hadn’t considered.

Begin thinking now of your “consequence team” that can help you evaluate potential scenarios, evaluate trouble spots and provide alternative solutions to your decisions. One word of advice — be sure that James Whitlock is on your team!

Be careful out there!

3 Tips For Negotiating With Hotels

When it comes to planning a Christian meeting, conference or retreat, one of the more challenging tasks can be negotiating with the hotel or conference center for your sleeping rooms, meeting space and catering. Am I getting the best room rate? Why do I have to guarantee anything? What does guestroom to meeting space ratio mean? These are just a few of the questions you may find yourself asking.

While those are all valid questions/concerns, hopefully we can give you a few tips that will help to lessen any anxiety.

Room rates – There are numerous variables that go into deciding the rate a hotel or conference center quotes a group. These variables include size of group, time of year (high, low or shoulder season), arrival/departure pattern, transient demand, how much meeting space group requires, amount of food & beverage revenue to be generated from event and meeting history for your event.

The slower the season, the better the rate you can negotiate. The same is true if your arrival/departure pattern is opposite the majority of the hotel’s normal business. In other words, if the hotel is primarily a business oriented property you can usually get better rates over a weekend, while a leisure destination location will usually give better rates for Sun-Thu business.

Two other key factors a facility considers before quoting rates to a group are the total revenue value of the event and its meeting history. The more your group commits to spend on food, audio/visual, etc can help you in your room rate negotiations. Also, a group with a consistent history of meeting their room block is much more likely to get a better rate than a first time group with no history. From the hotel’s point of view there’s just less risk with the group that has a good track record.

Guestroom to meeting space ratio– Almost all hotels/conference centers have guidelines by which they determine how much complimentary meeting space to allocate to your group. While this ratio will vary by facility, meeting space will always be tied to the number of sleeping rooms your group commits to. The more guestrooms you use, the more space you’re entitled to and vice versa. In some cases you may be able to rent additional meeting space, but that will depend on how much overall space the facility has available.

Contract guarantees – All hotels are going to require some type of room guarantee in your contract. This is to protect the facility should you fail to pick up your contracted number of rooms. However, it is fair to insist on some type of sliding scale. The further out you release your rooms, the less you’re responsible for, as the hotel will have more time to recoup their loss by selling the rooms to someone else. Hotels with high transient demand will be more open to this, while facilities with low transient demand (such as Ridgecrest and Glorieta) have less likelihood of reselling the rooms and thus have more to lose.

Negotiating with a hotel or conference center should not be adversarial. I’ve always believed a good deal is made when both sides are happy. When that happens the groundwork is in place for a successful event. When it doesn’t…run, don’t walk…and find another facility that will by happy to partner with you and help make your event a success.

5 Common Meeting Planner Mistakes

Ridgecrest Conference Center

At Ridgecrest and Glorieta conference centers, we host hundreds of groups each year, ranging in size from 8-10 people to over 1,500 in attendance. I say this, not to promote Ridgecrest or Glorieta (well maybe just a little), but to point out that we have the privilege of working with many different types and sizes of meetings and retreats each year.

With that in mind, I recently asked our event coordination staff at Ridgecrest to give me the five most common meeting planner mistakes they encounter over the course of the year. Here are their responses:

  • Failure to make a site visit prior to the event/meeting. – This is absolutely critical for large events, but can also be very important for smaller events or retreats as well. Taking the time to make this visit allows the meeting planner to get a clearer picture of the facility’s layout, how the meeting space will work best for their event, how much time to allow in the schedule to move from space to space and to build a greater level of trust with, and confidence in, the facility staff.
  • Failure to read the information sent from the meeting facility. – The purpose of this information is to minimize the chances for miscommunication between the meeting planner and the host facility. Whether it’s the facility contract, pre-planning details or catering forms, it’s critical for the meeting planner to thoroughly read and understand all the information given to them. Before the event is the time to ask questions, or clarify details, not once the event starts.
  • Lack of communication among the group/faculty planning the event. – When this happens, the result is mixed information being sent to the meeting facility. This significantly increases the opportunities for mistakes being made during the event and for the group to incur additional, and maybe unnecessary, expense. We suggest your group have one primary contact person with the venue so as to avoid confusion.
  • Planner makes assumptions about the meeting facility. – My wife always tells me I should never assume anything and the same is true when planning a meeting or event. Every facility/hotel is different and a planner should not make assumptions based on where they met last year, even if it’s the same facility.
  • Waiting until the last minute to send in their information to the facility/hotel. – The earlier a meeting planner can submit their information (i.e., rooming list, catering requests, meeting room set-ups, etc.), the better for everyone. This allows the facility/hotel to be better prepared to provide the best possible experience for the group.

We would love to hear from any of you that plan meetings or events. Do you agree with the list? Anything else you would like to add? What about on the other side? What are the most common mistakes made by the hotel/facility that you have to deal with?