If you’re like many people in the religious realm, meeting planner is not part of your job description—until it is. It can be overwhelming to add conference organizer to your already full plate working in ministry. However, a thoughtful, strategic approach can help you get a handle on it from the very beginning and lead to a smooth, meaningful event that will delight your attendees. With that, it’s time to get back to basics of what not
to do. Click through to discover the seven deadly sins of planning a conference.
In any line of work, it’s important to know when to respectfully say no. It’s a different story to let your fears take over and prevent you from trying new things or gaining new skills. Instead, approach your new role with an open heart. Imagine the opportunity for growth the experience could provide if you’re asked to plan a conference or event. You may find conference organizing to be an undiscovered gift.
So you’ve never organized an event before? (Your sister’s baby shower or dad’s 60th birthday doesn’t count.) No problem. Take advantage of the resources around you. Check to see if any local colleges near you offer a la carte event managing courses. For example, Kendall College in Chicago has classes on meeting management, event marketing and more. Event Leadership Institute, an online resource, offers on-demand classes, and you can listen in on many free webinars
from various industry sources.
Looking for a reliable transportation company to move attendees in your destination? Call the CVB in that city; it’s there to help. Need to know if your venue will have enough bandwidth to support your attendees’ multiple devices? Talk with your venue’s audiovisual team. Looking for ways to involve families after-hours during your conference? Join the EventProfs Mastermind
private group on Facebook, where any planner can post an inquiry and get answers from peers. The bottom line? Don’t be afraid to ask others for help.
Don’t know where to start when it comes to establishing how much an event should cost? First, consider whether the event is designed to make a profit for your organization. Second, determine what ticket price your attendees will be able to pay; or, if your organization will be covering the cost (for in-house events like a leadership retreat), how much your group can afford per person. Ask attendees—don’t assume—what their maximum budget is for a hotel room. If you do your homework, you’ll avoid surprises later.
You may have heard the term “seller’s market” thrown around. It means that in the current economy, demand for hotel rooms and meeting space is greater than the current supply—meaning hoteliers may have the upper hand when negotiating. When you’re competing for dates with a corporate group with deeper pockets than your nonprofit, it may seem like a losing game. However, most hotels value religious business
. Don’t be afraid to negotiate. The key is to leverage your negotiating power by being transparent about your budget upfront, having flexibility with dates, and knowing what can and cannot be negotiated. (You may be able to get a discount on F&B, for example, but gratuity or taxes are fixed.)
Faith-based events today span the generational gamut. It’s important to consider your audience’s age range when executing marketing efforts for your event. Will the majority of your attendees be baby boomers (ages 52-71), or even part of the Silent Generation (ages 72-93)? Direct mail marketing and phone calls will be a smart strategy. Will your guests be mainly from Gen X (ages 35-55)? A mix of Facebook and direct mail, and potentially an event app, would be the right approach. Planning for a youth event for either millennials (ages 21-41) or Gen Z (ages 21 or under)? It may be worth the investment to market through Instagram ads and start a Snapchat account for your event or organization. If you need help with the latter, grab a few youth from your church, organize a pizza night and have them teach you the platforms. A mini focus group made up of people in your audience demographic can be insightful.
When the day of the event finally comes, apprehension and doubt may start to creep in. You may find yourself thinking, “I can’t wait for this to be over.” Before the busyness of the day begins, wake up 30 minutes earlier and use that time for self-reflection. Visualize how you want the event to go from start to finish, and recognize what challenges may occur. Then promise yourself that if any of those do happen, you’ll work through them calmly with grace and a thankful heart. After all, you’ve been an integral part of drawing people together for the greater good—and that’s a blessing in itself. Challenge yourself to find joy in the process.