You’ve decided it’s time for an event with your group and now it’s time to plan! Wow! You are probably thinking about the myriad of things that need to be organized, bought, reserved, booked, planned and ordered, and about a ton of other details. Those details might include choosing a venue, finding a musician or worship team, booking a speaker, finding door prizes, starting the registration process, picking centerpieces and decorations, and so much more. You and your team are working your way through the process, trying your best – I know! – to make sure that every person who attends leaves feeling refreshed, renewed, and reconnected with God. You are on the right track!
While you are working through all of that, let me throw out a few suggestions on how to plan and prepare for a successful event. These are only a few suggestions, you can probably think of additional points that could be added to the list! If you have any questions feel free to use the website contact form to ask me.
- You and your committee or planning team should be praying long before the event. If you don’t have a team for planning the event, pray about whom you should ask to be on that committee with you.
- Pray that God would direct you to the speaker He wants for your group.
- Pray for your speaker. Ask God to be ministering His message to their heart far in advance.
- Have your team pray for each person that will be attending so they will have soft hearts toward the message that will be presented.
- Encourage the speaker with prayer before the event, and definitely during the event.
- Prepare your team, or assign a new team, to be prayer partners during the event. Train them as well to pray with individuals during the event if needed.
- Book your speaker as early as possible.
- Discuss the theme and your expectations with your speaker so you are both clear on what they are.
- Understand that the person you’ve booked to speak for your event is likely speaking at several events before yours. If you ask them for detailed information about their talk too early, they may not know simply because they’ve been giving time to another group. That does not mean they’re not going to be prepared for you.
- Feel free to send prayers or encouragement notes via email to your speaker before your event, but do not expect returned email unless you have a specific question that needs to be addressed. Speakers receive plenty of email and must guard their time.
- Send draft copies of your advertising to your speaker BEFORE you release it to the public to avoid any possibility of mistakes (such as misspelled names, misunderstanding in topic chosen, etc.). Do not release advertising to the public without their approval.
- About three weeks before the event contact the speaker to confirm the expected number of attendees. Ask at this point if there is anything you can do to help the speaker.
- If the speaker has specific food or meal needs, the best time to address these is about two to three weeks before the event.
- Be sure to give the speaker emergency contact information (location and contact person), and the names and numbers of those who will be picking them up from the airport or transporting them from place to place.
Accommodations: Most speakers prefer hotel accommodations over billeting situations in private homes. It allows them to get proper rest to stay healthy. It also provides the flexibility to pray, prepare and have personal time with God in privacy and without interruption. If the speaker you hire travels with a ministry partner, be sure to provide the same or similar accommodations for them.
Meals: Ask if your speaker has any food restrictions, allergies or preferences. If so, ask for a meal or food list so you can provide appropriate snacks and meals. If you will be catering your event, ensure that your caterer or cook understands the speaker’s culinary restrictions. Be sure to provide water bottles rather than tap water for your speaker in their room and also during sessions.
Honorarium/Fees: Some speakers accept honorariums while others have set fees. If your speaker has a set fee that is lower than what you would normally expect to pay, consider blessing them with additional funds as a gift. When determining what kind of honorarium you should give your speaker, consider that if this is their full-time ministry, their expenses are much higher than someone who may be local or may have another source of income. Remember that your speaker’s costs include website maintenance, business cards, appropriate professional clothing, luggage (or luggage replacement with extensive travel or missing luggage), newsletters, the cost of seminars that help them be a better minister, etc. Also consider that the time they invest in your group is sometimes ten times the amount they actually spend speaking, and possibly much more than that if travel is considered.
Transportation: If your speaker requires air transportation, discuss with her whether she would like to book the flight herself or if she prefers you to do it. Be prompt in reimbursing her flight costs so she can pay her credit card without accruing interest. Give her plenty of advance booking time so she can find seat sales if possible. Be sure to send a female driver to pick up a female speaker and a male driver to pick up a male speaker. Do not put your speaker in a potentially compromising situation by scheduling them alone with someone of the opposite gender who is not their spouse. If air travel is not necessary, but a long drive is required, offer to send a driver, or rent a car for your speaker to spare the wear and tear on their vehicle.
Assistant: Speakers deal with many people from many events and it is very difficult to keep all the names and faces straight. Assign someone to be their Assistant during the event, and to be the only one contacting them after the booking is secured. The Assistant should be willing to help your speaker at the book table, and to ensure they are settled in their room, their microphone is working, the podium is set up correctly, the power point is set up, etc. They should ensure the speaker has a water bottle at the podium. The Assistant should be a meal time partner as well so the speaker can find one ‘friendly’ face at each meal. Speakers can be lonely at events (especially retreats) and it is a blessing to be welcomed into a group. Having one person assigned to help the speaker makes this so much more pleasant!
Find out if your speaker offers any advertising materials such as bulletin inserts, photographs for use on posters, video announcements, etc. If so, use these!
Depending on the size of your event you might consider radio advertisements. Most local radio stations also offer free community event announcements.
If you plan to coordinate with or invite another group or groups for the event, be sure to invite them well in advance giving them the date, time, location, cost, speaker bio and other pertinent information.
Posters can be effective on church doors, and on community bulletin boards at grocery stores, banks, libraries, day care or community centres. Make sure they look professional and are eye-catching.
Social media is a great way to advertise! Use Facebook, your organization’s website and Twitter to promote your event. If you need help in this, there are often young people in the church or community who would love to volunteer to do this for you.
Clearly communicate the deadline for registration, especially if a venue or caterer needs final numbers for seat counts or food.
Offer ‘early bird’ discounts. Everyone loves a discount!
For retreats, consider having a spot on the registration form where they can identify themselves as ‘early to bed’ or ‘night owls’. This can help you keep things quiet in the rooms where people like to sleep. If you can keep the night owls in a separate area they don’t have to worry about keeping the noise down for the early birds.
The fun stuff adds that little bit extra that makes your attendees feel cared about.
Centerpieces on tables with refreshments or meals can tie your theme to every part of the day. Dollar stores offer inexpensive ingredients for creative displays. Arrange for some reasonably priced flowers. Thrift stores often have great assortments of tea cups, flower pots, bowls, fabric, and other odds and ends that can add a little spice to your decorations. Use your creative side!
When guests receive welcome bags upon registration on the day of the event it helps them feel they got their ‘money’s worth’. If those bags have little treats – candy, a pen, Kleenex, a candle, a notebook, chocolate, a tea bag or hot chocolate package, a themed nail file, or other inexpensive and fun theme related items – those guests will feel even more pampered! Some local stores, especially restaurants and Christian bookstores, may be willing to provide coupons or discount vouchers for the bags.
Small group times at an event help build community and allow attendees to better grapple with and reflect deeper on the content of speaking sessions.
If your group is having one session, consider having a small group discussion time immediately following the session. Provide two to three discussion questions about the session, and one or two questions focused on application.
If your event is over a weekend, the setting for small groups is ideal. Plan to schedule small group discussion times immediately after the sessions. Thirty to forty-five minutes is ideal.
Ask your speaker if they will provide discussion questions for these times. If not, consider writing a few discussion questions for each session yourself. Discussion questions should be printed out and made available to attendees.
Some ask if the small groups should be the same for a weekend event or change after every session. That depends on what your goals are. If they stay the same, the relationships built will be stronger, and there will be a higher probability of deeper sharing as they build trust in each other. If they change, they will meet more people and expose themselves to more opinions and views.
Testimonies can be particularly effective at weekend retreats.
Offer the attendees 30 minutes or so near the end of the retreat or after the last session to share what is on their hearts.
Have someone lead this who can gently move from one testimony to another without rushing people or being uncomfortable with silence. It is best if they can also tactfully move the time along if someone is using too much time. You want to ensure that most people will have time to share if they’d like.
You can ask your speaker or worship leader if they would like to lead this time.
No one likes to return home from an event completely exhausted! If you’re planning a retreat, be sure to leave free time in your schedule so people can go for a walk, read, play games, visit, take a nap, etc.
Keep your sessions fun, upbeat and not too long. Your sessions should not likely be more than 2 hours including ice breakers, announcements, singing, speaker, and small group discussions.
Allow for breaks between sessions to have a snack, a drink or a bathroom break. Depending on the length of your event and your venue, you may need to provide an opportunity for people to take a short walk or nap.
Snacks and drinks are important. Most people like night snacks. If your event includes an evening (or night), and your venue or caterer doesn’t provide an evening snack, inform your guests ahead of time if they are allowed (or encouraged) to bring their own snacks. Having hot water for tea or hot chocolate and both regular and decaf coffee is a good idea.
If your speaker is bringing books to sell, plan to have a table ready for their displays.
If your speaker is not bringing books to sell, consider inviting a local Christian bookstore to display and sell books on the topic of your retreat or event plus a few additional titles.
Bring a ‘float’ for your speaker, especially if she is flying in for your event.
Be sure to let your registrants know there will be opportunity to purchase books at the event.
The speaker’s Assistant should be prepared to help at the book table.