This special July issue of Sunday| Mag explores the creative process of?SALT Nashville, a?creative arts conference. I (Jonathan Malm) know firsthand that putting together a conference is a lot like putting together an Easter service. The goal of this issue is to take a look at a conference and see what things we can learn for our own creative church endeavors. Enjoy!
Planning an event can sometimes be a little stressful. Or lets be real?very stressful.? It becomes stressful because you realize every little detail matters.
With us, it was a conference. It all started sitting around a table. Dreaming. Brainstorming. And running with an idea. Yet we still had the big?question, ?How are we going to pull this off??
As we moved into taking steps to plan and create SALT Nashville, we knew we were going to have to be creative on how we would execute this vision. Our team consisted of people with very busy lives, busy schedules, and each of us had other full-time jobs. It was difficult to be in the same place at the same time.? Starting this conference was a side project we believed in and were willing to invest in. In order to make this work, we had to get some things in place so we could all be on the same page.
Building a conference has many moving parts! From the beginning, to the middle, and up to the day of the event, there was always something to do. There are constant details you want to check off the check-list. There were many resources that we tapped into as we moved forward. These resources worked great for us as a team to be able to stay ahead, share with one another, be on the same page, and?fully execute. Each of the resources can be used for anything you may be planning, including your church services.
Planning the Conference
In order to create a successful conference, we had to come up with the right plan, and that plan needed to be communicated to everyone involved. We found that cloud-based apps worked best for us. Did I mention we live in different cities and have other full-time jobs? We needed ways to store meeting notes, budgets, artist information, hotel information, run sheets, etc. that were accessible to all that were on the team and sometimes outsiders that needed the information. Below are a few that worked for us.
Evernote is accessible to all of the SALT team; anyone can access it from anywhere. Our main focus with Evernote is in the planning and brainstorming for SALT. Each time we have a meeting, we gather all of our notes into this one place. It allows us to add links to websites, pictures, ideas. Anytime we meet via in-person or over the phone, we use Evernote to document. This allows us to, as a team or individually, go back and pull ideas or thoughts from previous meetings. Evernote also allows us to organize the ideas by making folders and subfolders and create notes within those folders. For example, we will title a folder ?Meetings? and within that folder have notes from the meeting by date. In using this system we are able to create the final plan, but still keep all of the notes and previous brainstorming ideas.
The calendar works great because Google allows us to make a shared calendar that we all can access. We use the calendar to create deadlines for everyone on our team. Some of the deadlines we set were design deadlines, production deadlines, confirming hotels, booking flights, receiving of info needed by other team members, and much more. As you plan an event, conference, or church service, you want to create these deadlines to make sure you are getting the information you need at the proper time.
Google Drive is our best friend. We use it the most. We loved using this resource; again it is online, accessible to each of us at all times and shared with all of us. Our team uses Google Drive to house all of the logistics for SALT.? We create folders and subfolders and house all of our spreadsheets and pdfs within the Drive. We use Drive for the following:
- Run Sheets
- Production Details
- Volunteer Schedules
- Speaker/Artist Info
- Breakout Session Details
To give you a sense of how we would utilize Google Drive:
I am the lead over our Volunteers. So within Google Drive, I will create a folder that says ?Volunteers?. In that folder I have several spreadsheets. The first is what I call Volunteer Info. Through our website, people can sign up to be a volunteer. As they do, I take their information and input it to the?Volunteer Info spreadsheet. In this spreadsheet, next to their name and contact info, I have columns that are listed: ?Welcome email,? ?Responsibilities? ?Availability? ?T-shirt Size? etc? This allows me to keep track of what has been sent to each individual, and will aid in helping me create a schedule during the days of the event.
Another spreadsheet within the ?Volunteers? folder is the actual Volunteer schedule. In this spreadsheet I create the event days, then plug in ?Who? is volunteering, ?Where? they are volunteering, and the ?Time? frame they will be on site. We also use the same method for our Speakers/Artists, to make sure we are taking care of everyone and can be steps ahead. This allows us to stay organized and serve people well.
Promoting the Conference
Getting the word out, you need to come up with a strategy that incorporates your marketing channels. You may use email, social media, and your website. Using the following resources, you can generate buzz about your event and have people start talking about it. For us, we try to navigate this in different ways.
- Mailchimp?- Through past events and our social media, we have asked people to sign up to receive our newsletters and updates. It?s been a great way to get those who are your current audience more engaged. We send promo info, announcements, and any other info we feel our audience should know.
- Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook?- Who doesn?t love social media? We use these avenues as well and get creative in the way of using them. Posting quotes from people who have been on our platform, to sharing photos of the community, and also a way of giving announcements and getting the word out.
Managing the Conference
There are different ways you can manage your event. One of the key ways is to create a way for people to register. Knowing the number of people attending can help you plan more in detail for a successful event. Also, using an online registration resource, you can keep track of sales and data you can use for future events.
We use an Internet platform that event organizers can use to sell tickets and registrations for their events, called Eventbrite. As people register through our website, it leads them to the Eventbrite website where registration is completed. The website allows you to set up an automatic email to send to your registrants as a ?Welcome?, which is a plus.
We?ve found, over the last two years, that SALT is a large undertaking. Much like a Christmas or Easter series, many people are involved in the planning and execution and many of those people have other full-time jobs. When your information is stored in a cloud-like environment, accessible to everyone, you?re able to become more effective in your communication, planning, and delegating. So instead of constantly having to wait on others to get status updates on little details associated with the event, we make sure that everyone has access to the information. For any large event, access to information is the wall between successful execution and failed execution. These tools have allowed us to shape what our team has called the collaborative planning process and set the table for a welcoming conference environment and a contagious worship atmosphere.