Ask the Expert: Booking a New Conference

With close to 100 years of experience in the hospitality industry among their team, I knew where to turn for “Ask the Expert” advice on booking a new conference.  I recently asked the sales staff at Ridgecrest Conference Center a simple question:  What is the best advice you can give a group booking a new conference?  Their answers were very insightful.

Here is what they had to say:

  • “If I could narrow down a good piece of advice for a new group it would be a site visit.  The experience is good for the planner and the salesperson.  Hopefully it begins a lasting relationship.  Looking and walking the property provides the planner much more than a website can offer.  A site visit introduces the planner to many ideas and options in housing, meeting space, dining hall and recreation.” – Danny Dalton, at Ridgecrest for 35 years, in sales department for 13
  • “When planning a new conference, it is key to surround yourself with a team of volunteers that have multiple gifts and talents that will help you execute the planning!  Ask a lot of questions, gather resources and ideas and expect the unexpected.  Above all things, stay focused on why you are having the conference in the first place!” – Annette Frisby, serving in hospitality for 22 years, at Ridgecrest for 18
  • “Booking a new conference for a ministry can be tricky, so finding the right place and setting is key.  You want it to be a place your attendees truly want to travel to and a place where the staff understands the goal of the event.  The facility needs to understand this is a new conference and will be willing to help the planner in any way possible to help encourage attendance.” – Angela Beattie, 31 years in hotel industry
  • “My advice would be to plan a site visit.  There are so many details you can cover in a 2-hour visit you would never be able to experience just by looking at the website.  For example, how long does it take to walk from the hotel rooms to the meeting rooms?  Does the campus feel safe and walkable?  What kind of hangout spaces are available around campus?  More importantly, how do the staff treat you?  You can book an event at a 5-star resort with beautiful hotel rooms and incredible amenities, but a rude and unhelpful staff will mar your entire experience.  Experiencing excellent customer service in a Christ-like environment makes the difference between a good retreat and a great retreat.” – Lindsay Sloas, at Ridgecrest for 9 years, in sales department for 3

As you can see, location and surrounding yourself with the right team are great places to start when booking a conference.  By conducting a site visit, you can also see firsthand the event space, hotel accommodations, dining facilities and more.

Thanks for the great advice, Ridgecrest team!  If you are interested in booking a new conference with them, you can find more information at


Ski Retreats 101, Part Two

*This blog post is a continuation of our previous post, Ski Retreats 101, Part One.

You’ve reserved the ski equipment. You’ve got transportation to and from the ski mountain covered. You’ve made lodging reservations, and you’re praying for the weather conditions to be favorable for your ski retreat. Now what?

Though most planning for winter ski retreats is based on the actual skiing details, there are still things you need to prepare for your trip. Ask yourself, “What is the purpose of this trip?” Is it just for fun? Do you want to have a worship element? Are you trying to build group dynamics? Is this more of an outreach event? As you think about these questions, here are things to consider as you prepare for the non-skiing aspects of your winter retreat:

  • Ski retreats can be a great outreach tool for your group. Keep in mind you may have people attending who are unfamiliar with your group’s purpose. This is a great opportunity to share Christ with them, as well as help them get more acquainted with those in your group.
  • Ski retreats are also a valuable tool in building relationships. These relationships can be between your attendees, your leadership or a combination of both. Scheduling down time in the evenings provides an outlet for relationship building to naturally fall into place.
  • If your purpose involves worship, there are a few ways to go about this. It is best to plan worship times in the evening, as most ski groups leave early in the day to maximize their ski sessions. Your guests will be tired when they return. Depending on the atmosphere and your group dynamics, you may plan a very upbeat worship session. You might consider a more laid back, acoustic session if this better fits the mood of your retreat. There could also be a time for simply having small group discussions divided by age groups.
  • For late evenings, provide time for fireside chats, games (such as cards or board games) and hot chocolate, coffee and snacks. Having a place to meet such as a lobby, conference room or common space is a great way for your group to relax together and foster an environment of relationship building.
  • If you are having giveaways at your retreat, think in terms of winter items such as long-sleeve t-shirts, hoodies, sweatpants or chapstick.
  • For the non-skiers in your group, consider asking your host location if there are areas to sled, snow shoe, tube or go ice-skating.

What advice can you give to someone planning a ski retreat? Comment in the section below.

Ski Retreats 101, Part One

Planning a winter ski retreat this year? Ski retreats can be the perfect getaway for families, couples, singles or youth. Other than the actual skiing logistics, these can be low-key events in terms of planning since most of your day is spent on the slopes. During down time, other than organized worship times, guests often just want to relax as they are tired from a day filled with skiing (and possibly sore from a day filled with falling!).


Here are some ideas to consider as you prepare for the skiing part of your winter retreat:

  • Typically, ski retreats are scheduled around extended holiday weekends (possibly New Years, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, President’s Day, etc.). Keep in mind these are very busy times on ski slopes, so prepare accordingly. Some groups prefer Spring Break ski retreats. There is always the possibility some ski slopes will have closed by this time due to warmer weather, so make sure to have an alternative plan if needed.
  • Most guests will not have personal ski equipment with them, so rentals will be necessary. Host locations often have relationships with ski slopes and ski rental equipment companies. Make sure you make proper reservations (if possible) for these things. It is also a good idea to pick up rental equipment a day prior as there are often long lines during peak ski times. This way you can have everything ready for your first day on the slopes.
  • When traveling to the ski area, make sure you have reliable vehicles and drivers who are comfortable in potentially snowy/icy conditions. Typically, ski resorts make it a priority to keep their roads clear, but there is always a chance of fresh snow while you are on the mountain. An extra vehicle, other than the van or bus your group might be traveling in, is a great thing to have in case of a medical emergency.
  • Consider asking your host location if they provide sack lunches as a meal option. If so, these can reduce costs at the ski slopes, as well as provide a convenient way to have lunch.
  • As with any group trip you take, authorized medical forms are necessary as defined by your organization’s protocol.
  • Packing lists are important if many of your guests are first time skiers. Include things such as ski bibs or waterproof pants, clothes to layer, a waterproof jacket, wool socks, a hat, sunglasses or ski goggles and chapstick.

While skiing is often the highlight of this type of event, there are also things you will need to prepare for when you are not on the slopes. Stay tuned for part two of this blog series as we discuss planning for the non-skiing aspects of winter retreats!

A New Take on Gift Exchanges

White elephant Christmas parties. Dirty Santa gift exchanges. Secret Santa gifts. I’m sure at some point you’ve been invited to take part in something like this and might have even fretted over what type of gift to bring. Is it in the price range? Is it too tacky? Not tacky enough? Does it fit the person you are buying for? Will everyone like it?

Assorted colored shopping bags including yellow, orange, red, pink, blue and green on a white background

Recently I came across a new idea on gift exchanges called a “My Favorite Things” party. While this idea can work for Christmas parties, it can also be a fun fellowship idea for a smaller women’s retreat. In addition, this is a great “get-to-know-you” activity.

Here’s how to host a “My Favorite Things” fellowship gift exchange:

  • Each participant brings five gifts – each item the same. The gift should represent one of the participant’s favorite things. Set a per gift price limit (very low) prior to the event. These gifts can include anything from a favorite type of candy or cooking item to a favorite type of household essential or a handmade item. (For example, if one of my favorites things is a certain type of pen, I would bring five of them to exchange.)
  • Place these gifts in a gift bag and have all participants sit them on a gift table.
  • Each participant writes her name on five slips of paper and places them in a basket.
  • In order to exchange the gifts, each participant will come up and tell about her gift – why it’s a favorite thing, what it means to her, etc.
  • The participant will then draw five names from the basket, and each of these people will receive their gift.
  • So, you bring five of your favorite things and leave with five gifts representing the favorite things of others!

In order to make this event a success, you must send out detailed instructions for your guests prior to the event. As with many women’s retreats, a lot of attention is given to the “cute” details, so include a fun invitation to this in your registration material. Decorate your fellowship room in a similar fashion. (As a side note, this can serve as a retreat activity or as a stand-alone event.)

As gifts are exchanged, women will undoubtedly learn new things about others in their group. And the greatest thing about this type of gift exchange is that you don’t have to worry about what someone else might want – you bring gifts you like instead!

Focus on Missions, Part Two

In our last blog post, we discussed ways to incorporate fundraising for mission emphases, ministry causes or charities.  Many organizations have non-profit groups they support regularly.  Others may not have something they regularly donate to but may want to do a special charity emphasis during an event.missionsHere are a few ideas if your group is looking for a missions cause to support:

•    Compassion International – The main goal of Compassion International is to provide for children living in poverty through child sponsorships.
•    World Vision International – World Vision offers child sponsorships, as well as opportunities to provide for specific humanitarian needs such as medical care, education and animals for impoverished communities.
•    Samaritan’s Purse – Samaritan’s Purse provides medical help, disaster response, orphan care and aid to wounded warriors, to name a few.  Operation Christmas Child is also a large part of this ministry.
•    International Mission Board – An entity of the Southern Baptist Convention, the International Mission Board exists to spread the name of Jesus Christ throughout the world.  Support of the IMB includes funding missionaries, providing through the World Hunger Fund and donating for specific strategic projects listed on their website.
•    North American Mission Board – Also an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention, the North American Mission Board exists to share God’s love throughout North America through planting churches, disaster relief and more.
•    Nothing But Nets and Nets for Life are organizations created to help fight malaria in African countries by providing mosquito nets for children and families.
•    The Water Project and Blood Water are non-profits with one major goal – to provide clean drinking water to people in impoverished countries.
•    Local Charities – There are most likely organizations in your own community you might want to support in a financial way.  These could include crisis pregnancy centers, homeless ministries, food banks and free medical clinics.
•    Some aspect of your organization – If you are a current non-profit, there may be certain causes within your organization you can highlight and raise money for during your event.

While this is certainly not an exhaustive list, this will hopefully get your brainstorming process in motion.  With any non-profit organization, it is important to do your own research on their mission statement, processes for providing support and financial information.  GuideStar is an online service providing financial information on non-profit organizations.  (Note:  When researching through GuideStar you may need to look up the parent organization rather than the specific cause.  For example, Nothing But Nets is a division of the United Nations Foundation.)

What about your group/organization?  Are there any specific ministries you support financially?  If so, tell us about it in the comments section!

Prayer Ideas Before Your Event

There are many ways you can get others involved in your event preparation.  While some people can take a very active role in getting things ready, there are others who can take a more passive role, one that doesn’t require them to even leave the comfort of their own home.  As you enlist volunteers, remember to ask people to do one very simple thing – pray for all aspects of your event.
pray word in letterpress typeAs you begin preparing for your retreat, develop a prayer plan, as well.  Be specific as you ask others to join you in prayer.  Determine the general and specific prayer requests you have.  Don’t include anything too personal – save these for your smaller, more intimate team.  Some things to pray over could include small group leaders, break out sessions, worship/large group times, travel, guests attending, host location, speakers, administration, weather, etc.  In addition to deciding what to ask people to pray for, also decide how you would like to ask others to pray.  Would you like them to pray specifically about something each day for 100 days?  40 days?  A week prior?  ‘Round the clock prayer time slots during the event?

Here are a few ways you can get the prayer requests to those who want to join you:

  • 100 Days of Prayer Calendar – If your event is a large-scale conference designed with making a large impact on your church or organization, consider a longer season of prayer prior to the event.  Have calendars available with a daily prayer request on them.
  • Prayer Bookmarks/Postcards – These are great to hand out the week before an event begins, with a few simple things to pray for regarding the conference.   These can easily be seen posted on a refrigerator, desk or even in a Bible.
  • Prayer Emails – While many people don’t want to be bombarded with yet another daily email, consider sending a very short prayer request email each day.  The key is to keep it brief and to the point.  (I recently received an email from a friend’s church entitled “Read, Pray, Delete”.  It included a very short prayer request and simply asked you to read it, pray for it and then delete it.)
  • Social Media – Facebook and Twitter are great resources to send out a daily post about a particular prayer request for your event.

These are just a few ways to get people involved before and during your retreat in a very important way.  What have you done as an event planner to enlist people to pray for your upcoming conferences and retreats?  Please share your ideas in the comments section below.

Choosing An Event Theme

Choosing a theme is a vital part of the event planning process.  Conference themes can (and should) impact your marketing designs, event promotion, stage set, speaker and topic selections, music set lists, printed material and media during the event.  In other words, the theme is what ties all the pieces of the conference together.

How do you choose a theme for an event?  Here are a few tips as you plan:

  • Pray.  This is a simple yet often overlooked step in the process.  Before you begin brainstorming, ask God for direction for your event.  Encourage your team to pray specifically for the event goals, direction and theme.  (And, don’t limit prayer to before you begin planning – pray before, during and after the planning process.)
  • Determine your direction.  What is the purpose of the event?  What topics do you want to discuss in the conference?  Who is your audience?  What goal(s) do you hope to achieve?  Once your direction is set, you are ready to come up with a theme idea.
  • Brainstorm.  At this stage, come up with as many different ideas as you can for your theme reflecting the direction chosen for the event.  Utilize your team in the brainstorming process.  Narrow the themes down to the top two or three.  Ask a few trusted people outside of your team for their input, as well.  Based on the feedback you receive from both inside and outside audiences, choose your theme.
  • Embrace your theme.  Once your theme is settled, focus on incorporating it in all aspects of planning.

If you’re having trouble in the brainstorming stage, here are a few ideas on where to look for themes:

  • Bible verses.  Choosing a key verse can lead to an overall theme for your conference.  From these verses you can utilize a word or phrase to direct your event.  For example, Matthew 5:16 could lead to a theme of “Shine”.
  • Christian music titles.  A look at this week’s billboard top 10 could lead to themes of “Thrive”, “Do Something” or “I Am”.  Worship songs can also provide great ideas for themes.
  • General themes.  You can choose a more general theme that can describe your retreat as a whole.  Ideas could include “Ignite”, “Marriage Impact”, “The Journey” or “The Summit”.

As an event planner, what resources do you use when planning an event theme?  Leave your comments in the section below.

Summer Series: Campfire Nights

Looking for the perfect ending to your summer retreat or conference?  A campfire experience is a great way to come together on the final night and reflect, relax and fellowship.

fireWhen some people think of campfires, they tend to go back to old experiences of singing “Kumbayah” while sitting around the fire.  While you can still incorporate some of the old-fashioned campfire traditions, there are also other ideas you can use, as well.

Here are some tips to plan an evening campfire experience:

  • Purpose:  Before you begin planning your campfire, determine the purpose for your evening.  What are you trying to accomplish?  Do you want a time of serious, personal reflection?  Do you want a relaxed experience to wind down from the retreat?  Do you want a time of worship?  Do you want to spend time reflecting on the actual retreat experience?  Do you want a combination of some of the above?  The purpose for your campfire will determine how you plan your evening.
  • Music:  Music can be a vital part of your campfire time.  Acoustic guitars and small drums (like djembes) can provide a great set, though many songs can be sung a cappella.  Fun, campfire songs can set the stage for an upbeat time.  These can include kid favorites such as “Down by the Bay”, “I Love the Mountains”, “Apples and Bananas” and “Little Cabin in the Woods”.  To transition to a more serious worship time, you can sing songs you might have been singing throughout worship sets during your retreat or use songs your guests will most likely know the words to, such as “Amazing Grace”, “Blessed be the Name”, and “Seek Ye First”.
  • Sharing:  Designate someone to lead a time of sharing if that is appropriate for your campfire.  Or, select a few people to speak briefly about some aspect of your retreat.  If your goal is to just have a fun experience, consider bringing in a storyteller to close out your campfire.
  • Snacks:  No campfire is complete without roasting marshmallows!  Provide ingredients for s’mores, or if you want something different consider roasting hot dogs or making banana boats.

Regardless of the purpose of your campfire, here are a few additional programming notes to keep in mind:

  • Have bug spray on hand for your guests to use.
  • Provide some type of seating for guests, whether that be chairs, blankets, logs or even hay bales.
  • Make sure the path to the campfire is well lit and well marked.  Flashlights or lanterns near the campfire area can also come in handy.

Campfires can be a great experience to culminate your retreat.  They can also be a great evening activity for a single night of your event.  However you choose to incorporate a campfire, have fun, relax and don’t forget the s’mores!


Summer Series: H2Olympics

While you may have your adult guests occupied with seminars, classes and other sessions, what are you planning with their kids who may accompany them?  Summer conferences are a fun way for families to travel together, but there are times when there may need to be separate activities for the kids.hoseIf you’re looking for a summer afternoon idea for the kids at your conference, water activities are always a hit!  While this will require planning on your part, it’s sure to be an afternoon the kids will remember.  Before you plan this type of activity, make sure your host location has water resources available.  Questions to ask include, “Is there a water source near the assigned playing area?” and “Are there long hoses available to use?”

If you do have access to water, consider planning an H2Olympics, a series of water events where teams of kids compete against each other.  (And, if the whole family wants to get involved and not just the kids, consider pairing families together based on size to compete against each other!)

Here are some events you can incorporate:

  • Fill the Can:  Have a large kiddie pool filled with water.  Each team must transport water from the pool to fill their own buckets using only themselves.
  • Curling:  On a large slip ‘n slide, one member of each team gets pushed on their knees and then slides.  The team member that goes the greatest distance wins.  (Tip:  Cover the slip ‘n slide with baby oil or dish detergent for an extra slippery ride.)
  • Water Balloon Fight:  Each kid gets ten water balloons.  The driest team at the end of the balloon fight wins.
  • Water Balloon Shot Put:  One kid from each team participates to see how far he can throw a water balloon.  The team throwing the farthest distance wins.
  • Balloon Piece Pick-up:  Give each team a trash bag.  The team collecting the most water balloon trash wins.  (As a side note, this is a great way for everyone to help clean up from the water balloon fight without them knowing they are actually “cleaning”.)
  • Soap Shrink:  Give each team two bars of soap.  The first to shrink all bars in their water buckets wins.  (Tip:  Use travel-sized soaps for this activity.)

There are plenty of other water games you can include in your H2Olympics – be creative and utilize supplies and resources you know you will have on hand.  After the games are over the kids can have a free time playing on the slip ‘n slides or running through sprinklers.

If you do plan on having a water day for your guests, make sure to let them know about this before they arrive.  They will want to pack bathing suits, towels and sunscreen for the big event!

Summer Series: Summer Catering Ideas

With the summer season upon us, it’s time to look at a few specific ideas for your upcoming, fun-in-the sun retreats.  Summer is a great time for camps and conferences designed with all ages in mind.

watermelon girl
Looking for a few summer-themed catering ideas for your next event?  Here are a few tried-and-true suggestions you can incorporate.

  1. S’mores:  Nothing says summertime like an evening sitting around a campfire.  However, having a campfire isn’t always ideal in your host location.  A new trend is creating a s’mores bar, something that can be used indoors or outdoors.  To create your bar, use a shallow wooden box or terracotta pots filled with rocks.  Place your flame source (burners or canned heat such as Sterno) in the rocks.  Using wooden skewers, guests can roast their marshmallows directly over these flames.  Think outside the box when creating your s’mores – flavored marshmallows, peanut butter cups or mints as your chocolate and various flavors of graham crackers.  The possibilities are endless!
  2. Watermelon:  When I think of summertime in the South, it’s not complete without watermelon.  Create an evening fellowship enjoying this summer staple.  You can incorporate other fruits, as well, by carving a watermelon as a bowl or basket and filling it with chunks of summertime fruits.  And, if your group is up for it, end the evening with an old-fashioned seed-spitting contest!
  3. Ice Cream Sundaes:  Most everyone loves ice cream!  Offer ice cream in a few different flavors and have guests create their own sundaes with all the toppings.  (If your group is smaller and you have access to ice cream freezers, consider homemade ice cream instead!)
  4. Sno-Cones/Shaved Ice:  Bring out the kid in all of your guests by indulging in summertime sno-cones and shaved ice.  Many party companies have machines available for rent.  Allow your guests to create their sno-cones with an assortment of flavored syrups.  You can buy these at most grocery stores during the summer months.

Summertime provides an opportunity for a lot of fun, outdoor catering events.  Often, they can be very nostalgic in nature, bringing back snacks you enjoyed as a kid on hot, summer nights!