Thursday, June 23, 2016

8 Tips for a Successful Retreat

This past weekend I hosted a writing retreat in my hometown. Several people have asked me how it went, and my answer is always: "It could not have gone better!" We seriously had the most amazing time and I'm already looking forward to next year!

As I thought through our retreat, I've pinpointed some of the reasons it went so well. If you're planning to host a writing retreat (or any ladies retreat for that matter), here are some tips for success:

1. Enlist Good Helpers. This is probably my number one piece of advice. I had the help of my sister, my cousin, and one of my best friends. If I had tried to tackle this event myself, I would be a complete wreck! Instead, I enjoyed myself and loved the comradery with these ladies. They were completely competent and confident in their roles, and that allowed me to do what I needed to do.
My friend Alena (left) and my sister Andrea (right) at Costco
the morning of the retreat.

My sister Andrea (left) and my cousin Cori (right). They
practically lived in this kitchen all weekend! Though they
did join us for meals and some downtime. Every time I
entered the kitchen, these two were laughing and smiling.
They thoroughly enjoy each other's company, and they've
already agreed to come back next year! I had some good
laughs with them, too. :)
They created the most delicious food!
Including warm, fresh,
blueberry sauce. Mmm...
2. Plan Ahead. I had a detailed itinerary, with some back-up plans in case of bad weather or personal preferences. The food was probably the biggest thing to plan, so I met with my sister ahead of schedule and we planned the menu. We chose food that we had prepared before, so we knew the meals would turn out great, and we knew how to make them. She took the menu and broke it down into shopping lists. This took her about four hours, but the lists were so detailed and so complete, we were able to get our shopping done in record time and we didn't have to go to the store in the middle of the retreat for a forgotten item! Also, depending on what kind of retreat you're planning, think ahead to what tools and supplies you'll need. I knew we'd need a big Post-It pad and whiteboards for brainstorming, so I had them ready.

3. Choose a Relaxing Setting. Sometimes you're able to host a retreat in a mansion on the banks of the Mississippi, and sometimes it's in your own home. No matter where the retreat, try to encourage a relaxing atmosphere. The best way to do that? Be relaxed yourself. I had a couple ladies tell me this past weekend that when the hostess is relaxed, it enables them to relax. No one needs to know when something doesn't go right. The guests are there to retreat from life's stress--so let them.

4. Plan Fun Icebreakers! The first evening of a retreat everyone is usually getting to know one another, or catching up if they're friends. I don't plan any work on the first night. Instead, I plan fun games to get people laughing and encourage them to step outside their comfort zone (a little). This past weekend we played Pictionary, two truths and a lie, and a few other icebreakers. We introduced ourselves and then asked each person to tell us what name they had always wanted as a child. There were some interesting answers... :)

5. Plan Time to Work, Play, and Relax. But don't force people to do what you want them to do. I planned an itinerary, but I told everyone the weekend was theirs to do what they wanted. Some people came on the walking tour I gave, some watched the fireworks, some enjoyed a romantic comedy I played on a big screen, and others took walks. Some chose to brainstorm, some chose to write, and some chose to just visit and fellowship with other writers. I wanted each person to come away from the weekend feeling inspired, relaxed, and excited to keep pursuing their writing goals.

Brainstorming on the front porch.

An impromptu dance lesson and sing-along.

Enjoying the beautiful sunset.

On a historic walking-tour of my hometown.

A little browsing and shopping downtown.

Campfire on the banks of the Mississippi River.

The retreat happened to be on the same
weekend as a local festival and we had
front row seats to the fireworks! I planned
next year's retreat on the same weekend
so we'll have fireworks again.

6. Practice Hospitality. What do I mean by this? Being a hostess is all about practice. You'll never be perfect, and no matter how well you plan, the event will have a few snares. Be flexible, easy to work with, and keep smiling. This will ensure that your guests are happy (regardless of the fact that there is suddenly no internet service and you're in a house with eighteen writers--some on deadline--who need the internet!). When you realize that you're simply "practicing," you'll be a lot easier on yourself. I can guarantee it. :)

7. Have a Fun Memento for Everyone to Take Home. I wanted something meaningful for each lady to bring home from the retreat, but I didn't want to spend too much, so I came up with a fun idea. I copied each lady's Facebook profile picture and then had them printed. I put the picture in the center of a piece of cardstock and invited the ladies to write one word to describe each person. At the end of the weekend, I put them inside a clear frame and sent them home with the ladies to remember the retreat, but more importantly, I want them to know how special they are.

8. Invite Your Best Friends. Only kidding! :) My real advice is to be warm and welcoming. The beauty of a retreat is that at the end you'll consider each woman a friend. There were a couple ladies who attended that I had never met before, and I was so happy to get to know them better. It's a wonderful way to bond and grow in friendship.

I'd love to hear from you! Have you hosted a woman's retreat before? Have you attended one? What advice do you have?

Gabrielle Meyer
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  1. Everyone I've talked with said they have a fabulous time, and they got work done! Hope I can make it next year. :)

    1. I hope you can, too, Brenda. You were missed. :)

  2. Sounds awesome. I saw the pics on FB as you posted them and fell in love with that house you were in. Thanks for sharing.

    1. It's a beautiful home and one that's very dear to my heart for many reasons. After this past weekend, I've added more wonderful memories to recall with a smile. Thank you for following my posts, Pamela. :)

  3. It was a wonderful time! I am bummed that I didn't make it into the group photo...but then again, I spaced off a couple things that morning! :D

    Already planning on next year!

    1. I'm bummed that I didn't realize you weren't in it until after the retreat!! Next year. :)

  4. Gabe,
    I can honestly say the retreat was fantastic. Great time of fun and fellowship. While I'm not normally a game person in that setting, I thoroughly enjoyed the games. Def. on my agenda for next year! Blessings!

    1. Alena, thank you, again, for all your help! Having your experience and confidence was priceless to me. I'm already looking forward to having you back next year. :)

  5. Love your list, Gabe! You were a marvelous hostess, and I had a wonderful time!

    1. Thank you, Anna!! I'm so happy you had a good time. I loved having you here. :)


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