Outdoor Event Planning Roundup

CeremonySpring may seem far away, but it won’t be long until we’ll be outdoors again enjoying the warmth of the sun. It’s never too early to start your outdoor event planning, from Easter brunches, Mother’s Day luncheons, barbecues and block parties.

Pick a location that has some sort of shelter, such as a tent, gazebo, or picnic shelter, in case of inclement weather.

When planning your menu, select items that don’t require refrigeration. Incorporate fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables that are inexpensive and readily available.

Divide and conquer; recruit others to pitch in by providing tables, seating, tableware, coolers and ice. Assign an experienced grillmaster to prep and cook. Make sure the grilling starts early; many people miscalculate how long it will take to grill certain foods, which can cause your planned eating time to be delayed.

Don’t forget to plan activities to keep young ones entertained; bubbles, frisbees, jump ropes, games, and goody bags will ensure the kids at your party are happy campers.

Use some of the links below to help you plan your next warm-weather event.

100_0442Backyard parties and barbecues

Block party

Easter Egg Hunt and Brunch

Baby Shower


Attending a Conference? Make the Most of It!

If your profession requires you to attend one or more conferences each year, you already know that it is a big investment of time and resources. Registration fees, travel, accommodations, transportation, and meal costs can quickly grow into a significant expenditure. A conference can also be an incredible opportunity to grow in your profession, network with peers, and gather information that could be crucial to the success of your company.


All it takes is a little advance planning to squeeze every bit of education, collaboration, and inspiration from your next conference. Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your attendance:

  • Check to see if the organizers will be providing a conference bag when you arrive. If so don’t bring your own briefcase or tote; instead bring a small laptop sleeve or zippered bag with your own personal items to slip into the conference bag. After a full day of lugging things from one breakout session to the next, you’ll be glad you don’t have that extra weight to carry.


  • Your personal conference bag should include hand sanitizer, pain reliever, and breath mints. Also bring your own notebook and pen, a supply of business cards, and reading glasses if you need them. Leave your laptop in your hotel room, or better yet leave it at home if it’s an option. Stay connected via your smartphone or tablet.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. This is not a fashion show; it’s a marathon! Larger conference venues could have sessions spread out over many different buildings, which means you could be logging a lot of steps throughout the day. If you’re a presenter at a conference or trade show, you could also be standing for hours at a time, so make sure you have the right shoes for the job.


  • If the final agenda is available online prior to your arrival, spend some time reviewing it and selecting the first- and second-choice sessions you want to attend.  Conference planners do their best to ensure that room sizes will accommodate everyone, but from time to time you may be shut out of your first choice; be prepared with an alternate selection.
  • Take a jacket or sweater, or dress in layers. Organizers may have no control over room temperature, so come prepared to dress for anything from artic cold to sweltering heat.


  • Network! Attend all of the social events, talk with others at your meal tables about the sessions and the speakers, ask them what they do and where they’re from. Exchange business cards, writing on the back of the card a few words to jog your memory about what you discussed and what was most interesting about that person. Connect with people on LinkedIn after it’s over (including the speakers.) There’s so much to learn from others both during the conference and beyond; take advantage of every opportunity to meet someone new.
  • Take notes. Copies of PowerPoint sessions can typically be viewed after the event is over, but after several days they can lose their context. Personally recording key points in a notebook or in your Evernote app will help the primary concepts stay with you much longer and help you formulate action steps. What is your strategy to propose changes based on what you’ve learned, and who do you need to share it with? Keeping notes will also help keep you engaged during the session and help you get the most out of the conference.

Effective Time Management

 Time Management

Do you ever have trouble remembering things that need to be done? Do you struggle to arrive on time to appointments? Do you have difficulty maintaining focus on a single task long enough to finish it? Do you ever feel like a juggler, with so many balls in the air that you don’t know which ones to catch and which ones to let drop and roll away? Becoming an effective event planner, or just becoming more effective period, starts with having an efficient way to keep track of multiple dates, tasks, and deadlines.

  • Create a task list for every project on your plate and update the list every day.  It sounds like a simple, perhaps obvious suggestion, but this one can make huge difference in keeping you on target, on time, and stress-free. Be sure to include enough information to jog your memory about what you specifically need to do for each task and include a due date for each item.  Add each item on your list to your calendar or planner. Write things down in a notebook that you carry in your purse, or use an app on your smart phone or tablet.  Whatever you do, pick a method, stick to it, and update that list every day.
  • Use your lists to record all of the smaller tasks and details for each event on your schedule.  For example, if you’ve decided to have a garage sale, start adding individual tasks to your lists two or three weeks before- ‘clean out coat closet’; ‘place ad in local newspaper’; ‘sweep out garage’; set up tables and clothing racks’; ‘go to bank to get change’.
  •  As soon as ytime managementou think of a task, write it down! Keep paper and pen by your bed, in your car, and in your purse.  If your brain starts spinning as soon as you lay your head on the pillow with the tasks that are facing you the next day, take a few minutes to ‘download’ those items to a written list so your brain can rest.

Managing multiple tasks can be daunting.  The most important thing is to choose a system that you can maintain without spending a lot of time and effort. Whatever method you choose, it’s important to select a one that is comprehensive enough for your needs, but not so complicated that you can’t keep it current.

Want to start at page 1 of this book blog?  Click here.

Super Bowl Party Time! 5 Ways to Celebrate

It’s time for a Super Bowl party!  Here are a few ideas to keep the party hopping without breaking the bank:

super bowl 2014

1) This Super Bowl Scavenger Hunt is a fun way to keep people interested in the game, even if they’re not football fans.

2) Many of these tailgate party games can be played indoors.

3) Our family has great memories of playing the Super Bowl Squares Game with family and friends. This site explains the rules of the game.

4) I love this pretzel station idea, complete with dipping sauces. Add some brats and sauerkraut, and a few favorite beverages, and you’ve got a quick and inexpensive game day spread.

5) Need some additional money-saving party tips? This site has a ton of great ideas.



5 Steps to an Effective Meeting

Blurred abstract pattern - light backgroundThe beginning of a new year is a time of strategic planning for many companies. Goals and projects are identified, budgets are established, teams are created and action plans are launched.

Every project manager knows that their projects can only be successful if they have an effective communication strategy in place. Much of this communication occurs in meetings. Meetings can be productive slots of time where decisions are made and measurable progress is attained; if poorly run they can also be a colossal waste of time and energy!

For those times when a meeting is necessary, here are 5 ways to keep them meaningful and focused:

1.  Establish a set day and time for your meetings (ex. 1st and 3rd Thursdays at 10 a.m.) This creates milestones for each team member; if they’re expected to provide a progress report at each meeting, they’ll work harder to complete their tasks rather than show up empty-handed.

2.  Always provide a written agenda; it will help to keep the meeting on track. This sample MEETING AGENDA includes all the necessary components for a well-run meeting.

3.  Designate a facilitator and a note-taker for each meeting. It’s best if these roles are filled with two different people. The facilitator’s job is to make sure the meeting isn’t hijacked by sidebars and discussions that are off-topic. If this occurs, the facilitator must steer everyone back to the agenda.The note-taker records any votes or decisions, logs progress on existing action items, and documents any new action items and owners.


4.  Establish an end time for your meetings. A well-run meeting should never go beyond 90 minutes in length. Attendees tend to lose focus and conversations start to stray from the original topic if meetings go longer than an hour and a half. Let attendees know when the meeting will end, and then honor that commitment.


5.  Follow up each meeting by sending meeting minutes to each participant. This is a written record created by your note-taker that reminds every one of the decisions that were made, what action items are still pending, and who is the owner for each new action item identified.

George Bernard Shaw once said, “The biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Don’t leave anything to chance; frequent communication through effective meetings will help minimize risk and maintain momentum on your essential projects.

A Year of Healthy Snacks

In previous blog posts I’ve written about the fact that we no longer serve birthday cakes at our monthly office birthday celebrations. With the plethora of sweet treats already coming into the workplace, we decided that at least 12 times a year we would incorporate some healthier offerings into the mix.


After almost a year, the reaction has been very positive.  Team members walk into the birthday party wondering what awaits them. It’s true, a few people made a face when they saw the platter of hummus and veggies, but most people are on board with the changes.

Be resolved to give this a try in your office next year!  To help you get started, I’ve listed an entire year’s worth of healthy snacks below, including links and recipes where needed.

Have a Healthy New Year!

January – Peanut Butter, Banana, and Craisin Rollups – Easy to eat, and makes you feel like a kid again! Thanks to Craisins.com for this picture and recipe.


February – Fruit Skewers and Veggie Cups – This one is simple; using wooden skewers, thread grapes, apple chunks, pineapple, strawberries, and banana slices.  Next, pour a layer of your favorite low-fat ranch or other salad dressing in the bottom of a cup, and fill with any combination of carrot sticks, celery sticks, and green/red/yellow pepper strips.  Yum!

March – Make Your Own Trail Mix – I put a couple of tablespoons of Kashi GoLean Crunch cereal in the bottom of a clear plastic cup, and then placed bowls of other ingredients so people could add scoops to their liking.  Other ingredients include flaked coconut, golden raisins, chocolate chips, dried cranberries, peanuts, and sesame seeds.


April – Berry Parfaits  – In clear plastic cups, layer blueberries and sliced strawberries with low fat vanilla yogurt, and top with a few raspberries.

May – Hummus and Veggies – The primary ingredient in hummus is the chickpea. It has no cholesterol or trans fats. Itʼs also gluten free, Kosher, and filled with fiber and protein. Pick a couple of hummus flavors, and pair them with baked pita chips and veggies sliced for dipping.

June – Angel Food Cake with Strawberries and Whipped Cream – Okay, this month we cheat a little, but Angel Food Cake is virtually fat-free.  We put a few cubes of the cake in a bowl, topped it with loads of in-season strawberries, and topped it with some fat-free whipped cream.

July – Dreamsicle Smoothies – This concoction is cool and creamy, perfect for a summer treat.

August – Ballpark treats – Popcorn, Peanuts, and Cracker Jack – Not a lot of prep here, just giant bowls of crunchy goodness. If you don’t go too far with butter and salt, you’ve got a pretty healthy snack.

popcorn and peanuts

September – Apple Slices with Fat-Free Caramel Sauce – Self-explanatory; I bought a good apple corer/slicer to quickly prepare 3 dozen apples and made the caramel sauce available drizzle on top along with some chopped peanuts.

October – Spooky Fruit – Candy Corn cups were layered to look like candy corn; pineapple cubes first, then tangerine slices, a shot of low-fat whipped cream, and a piece of candy corn on top.  Banana Ghosts were simply bananas cut in half and semi-sweet chips pressed into the fruit for eyes and noses.  Whole tangerines were peeled and little slices of celery were used for the stem to resemble tiny pumpkins.


November – Individual Layered Bean Dip Cups – By carefully choosing low-fat or no-fat ingredients, this one is pretty healthy and can be customized to individual tastes. We made a few cups in advance with all ingredients, and then let the rest of the group make their own so they could eliminate the layers they didn’t like.

December – Gingerbread Smoothie – Sweet, spicy, and healthy!  A perfect smoothie for the holiday season.

You’ll need a few basic supplies to get started with your get-healthy campaign, including a sharp knife, a cutting board, and a good blender.  Add some wooden skewers, plastic cups, and disposable bowls, and you’re all set.

What snack ideas can you add to this list? Remember to think fresh, think seasonal, and think healthy!!

Where the World Isn’t Good, Make It So!

For this inspirational quote, I turn to Gary Hughes, who pastors my small church in southwest Ohio. Every Sunday, Pastor Gary concludes his sermon with a charge for his congregation. It is this:


This call to action always helps to remind me that there is always more that I can do. I am challenged to do more to share my time and talents and resources, and in doing so hopefully make the world a better place.

It’s always a good time of year to think about how you can make a difference in your corner of the world and beyond. There are dozens of opportunities at your fingertips to ‘make it so.’ If not now, when?


Spend some of your free time working at your local food pantry or homeless shelter.  If your church or other community organization asks for help with a special project or event, sign up (and involve your kids.)Group of volunteers standing together in a modern office


Food banks and free stores are busier than ever before. They are in constant need of staples and perishable items, and not just during the holiday season. Call your local service agencies or check their websites for a list of their most urgent needs. If there is a women’s crisis center or community aid facility in your city they are typically in need of toiletries, cleaning and household items. Don’t forget the local animal shelter – they’re often seeking donations of pet food and other animal care supplies.


Share your home with your friends and family by hosting events that bring people together. Create memories for your loved ones by establishing a warm and welcoming environment; eat, drink, laugh, love, and let these special people know that your life is richer for having them be a part of it. These are the mountaintop moments that will last a lifetime.


Organize a food drive or other community effort at work. Make it a contest between teams, with a special prize for the team who donates the most. This will not only help the chosen charity, but will foster team-building in your organization. This year we had teams work together to create raffle baskets, with the proceeds of the raffle going to a local agency who provides temporary housing and other assistance to homeless families.

Promote Peace

Be an agent of peace. Be resolved that you will not sweat the small stuff, that you will do all in your power to be kind to those you encounter. Reserve judgement when someone cuts you off in traffic or is less than kind in the checkout line, for you never know what someone else is going through.

What if all of us spent a little more time working to make the world a little better today than it was yesterday? It could be a beautiful thing; let’s make it so!

The Best Four-Letter Word?

100_0886For most of us, this month is chock-full of events and activities. We have a calendar full of concerts, office carry-ins, cookie exchanges, and ugly-sweater parties in addition to regular work and school schedules. Our heads are swirling with recipes, shopping, decorating, and card-sending. Add family events like play practice, choir performances, costume-making, gift exchanges and traveling to visit extended family, and you’ve got a perfect storm that can quickly turn your life into a disaster zone full of anxiety and stress. If your heart is beating a little faster just reading these words, the stress is already starting to seep in.

The best way to get a handle on the chaos of the next few weeks is to spend some time getting uber-organized. And the very best way to do that (get ready for the four-letter word) is to become an obsessive LIST-maker.  You may have heard it before because it’s true; a LIST, or several of them, is the best tool to organize your thoughts and identify action items as well as a priority for each.IMG_1089

Don’t wait – grab a notebook, or use your favorite list-making app, and get busy!  Use this L.I.S.T. to keep you on track:

  • L og – Start by logging every event on one calendar so you can get a clear view of the big picture. Review your calendar on a daily basis so you can create your action plan several days ahead.  Think about where you will be each day and how you might accomplish certain tasks in the course of your travels. For instance, if you’re stopping at the store to pick up a few items for dinner, check your list for gift cards, stocking stuffers, or party supplies that you might pick up while you’re there. If you have a few extra minutes during your lunch hour, go online and do some comparison shopping or Pin a few items on your Pinterest boards (see below.)Screenshot 2013-11-03 21.21.07
  • I ndividual Events – Prepare a list of activities, supplies, guests, menu, etc. for each event for which you have responsibilities. If you’re the host or organizer, this could evolve into several lists for a single event. These individual items get transferred to your shopping lists by date and priority. Create a Pinterest board for cookie recipes or party planning.
  • S hopping and Gifts – First prepare a gift list, organizing items by person, then adding the store or website where each gift can be obtained.  Next, add the items to a list of physical stores and/or websites you need to visit. This eliminates the need for repeat trips to the store, and the ability to group online orders together so you can take advantage of free shipping and other discount offers.travel tips
  • T ravel – Creating a comprehensive packing list will help you identify what may need to be purchased for the trip, what gifts need to be purchased and wrapped first, what needs to be cleaned, when to get your car serviced, and reminders to place on the calendar to make arrangements for pets, mail, etc.

Becoming a list-maker can accomplish many things. It can help you to free your mind from the millions of tiny details that you’re trying to keep track of, which will allow you concentrate on more important things.  A quiet mind can also increase your chances of getting a good night’s sleep, which is crucial to staying healthy during this busy time. Having a good list at hand ensures each shopping trip is thorough and efficient, saving time and gasoline spent on repeat trips. And speaking of saving money, using a list to get a jump-start on your gift shopping will prevent having to ship items at the last minute, saving a ton on express shipping fees.

LIST is a four-letter word you should be using every day!


6 Tips for Planning a Great Conference

The Midwest Writers’ Workshop is a conference that has been around for over 4 decades. They had a sellout crowd in 2014, and for good reason.  The team that organizes this event has an incredible eye for detail, from the registration process to the finale. Here are 6 examples of little things that make a huge difference:

1. Website

MWW 2014 Registration- SmallThe organizers of the MWW have learned a lot in their decades of planning the event. This is most evident when you navigate their website to register for the event and research the details.  They anticipate every question you could possibly have about fees, speakers, session options, transportation, lodging options, you name it!

2. Daily Newsletter

The daily “Shop Talk” is distributed as attendees arrive.  It includes schedule highlights, reminders, announcements and anything else that needs to be communicated.



3.Twitter Feed

IMG_1258As writers, those who attend MWW are very active on social media, and the conference hashtag gets heavy use year-round.  During the event, Tweets are on display on monitors in the common areas of the venue.

4. One-on-One Sessions

This conference is held on a college campus, and many of the volunteers are college students.  One of the highlights of the event is a chance to schedule an appointment with social media experts from the university. Those who take advantage of this opportunity walk away with some great tips and advice for maximizing their social media presence.


5. Buttonhole the Experts

These 20-minute roundtable sessions allow attendees to speak in small groups with agents, publishers, published authors and other writing-industry experts on a variety of topics.  These sessions alone are worth the price of admission!

IMG_1243 IMG_1245

6. Temperature Control (or, If You Can’t Beat ’em, Join ’em)

IMG_1261The venue for the MWW conference has an HVAC system that keeps rooms pretty cool.  The event planners are told in advance that the temperature cannot be adjusted, and they make it very clear in their advance information that attendees should dress in layers.  For those who don’t heed the warnings, they have a table of MWW logo fleece jackets for sale at the venue.

The organizers of the Midwest Writers Workshop know that sweating the small stuff is the difference between a good and great conference.


More Conference Planning Tips


Event Planning With Attitude


Behind every successful event is someone who takes the time to establish goals, assemble a team, create an action plan, set a priority and deadline for each task in the plan, and then execute that plan with precision. This allows everyone to relax on the big day and enjoy it without stress or unpleasant surprises.

Screenwriters use a script to tell their story.   Chefs work from a recipe to get consistent results. Coaches use a playbook to document their strategy for achieving their goal. Use any analogy you like, but the same principals hold true for event planning. You need to create a written plan to get you on the path to achieving your goals on time and within budget.

Separate yourself from the multitudes! Before you set a date, book a venue, or create a marketing campaign, it’s imperative that you spend some serious time creating your “playbook”, or your game plan for success.