Back in 2002 several PlanetChristmas enthusiasts started talking about having some sort a gathering where really serious decorators could come together, share experiences and learn from each other. From that mere glimmer of an idea sprang what we now call PLUS (PlanetChristmas Lights Up Symposium) and it is our official worldwide expo where we come together and talk all things Christmas. There’s nothing better than being around others with the same interests as you.
The first PLUS was held in late July, 2003 just south of Nashville where 125 people came together and had a great time. With each succeeding PLUS more people attend and want to participate. People plan their vacations around the event and many fly in from across the nation as well as foreign countries. In other words, PLUS is a big deal and has become THE gathering for Christmas decorating fanatics. The challenge is PLUS doesn’t always happen every year and for a very good reason: they’re a major challenge to produce.
PLUS events have become quite elaborate with three to four days of formal presentations, simultaneous educational classes, vendor exhibits and a gala banquet at the end. A full-blown PLUS takes a solid year of planning and a whole lot of money to pay for the venue space, insurance, audio/video systems, tables, chairs, curtains, electricity, food, drink, security and the rest of a long list that never seems to end
In 2004 people still wanted to get together even though the next official worldwide PLUS wasn’t scheduled for another year. A few generous decorators decided they would have local gatherings and invite just a few people in the immediate area to their homes and talk all things Christmas in a very informal environment. The mini-PLUS was born. It can be any time, any place and any size. There have even been sightings of spontaneous mini-PLUS gatherings in the food court of the local shopping mall.
So what’s preventing you from having a mini-PLUS? Few things can be as rewarding as bringing together like-minded people, talking, learning and getting ready for Christmas. The challenge becomes how in the world do you tackle such a thing?
Learn from the Experts
PlanetChristmas gathered several serious decorators that have hosted and attended numerous mini-PLUS events. Through their collected wisdom we pulled out the basic principles that make for a successful event. These aren’t hard rules but suggested guidelines that are well proven.
Our three fundamental rules of being positive, family friendly and Christmas centric apply to everything we do, even sponsoring a mini-PLUS. You’ll be surprised how decisions will come easily when keeping these rules in mind.
Think of a mini-PLUS like having a small party. This isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime wedding but instead a gathering of people with the same interests. A simple mini-PLUS shouldn’t involve much more effort than what’s required to host a small family reunion or a birthday party for a five year old. Your job is to provide a meeting place and maybe a little food. Don’t worry about being the perfect host because the attendees will have a good time no matter what.
Most mini-PLUS gatherings range in size from 2-25 people, though having more than 30 really does increase the planning and over-all workload of the host. The general consensus is to keep it small so you can enjoy the fun, also.
The biggest key to a successful mini-PLUS is having a loose agenda. You are the host and facilitator but don’t let it overwhelm you. Having back-to-back presentations in a very structured environment is a recipe for frustration at these small gatherings. People are there to socialize, associate names to faces and if they’re lucky, pick up a few pointers from others. Don’t worry about inactivity because people will fill in the gaps on their own by simply talking about their passions. Your job is to provide the place to make it easy for like-minded people to come together.
Once you’re committed to having a mini-PLUS, check the community calendar in the PlanetChristmas forums at http://forums.planetchristmas.com/calendar.php. Pick a date several months in advance that works for you. Polling others in hopes of finding the “best” date seldom works. Give people enough notice and they’ll adjust their life in order to attend. Be mindful of other simultaneous events in your area and don’t over schedule. Many of us love attending and haven’t mastered being in multiple places at once.
Decide early if you want to charge a fee to cover your hosting expenses. If serving food, people don’t expect to eat for free. Be careful of pot luck meals because it’s not practical for the people coming from out of town. Attendees realize putting on a mini-PLUS costs money and they’re more than willing to chip in to defray your expenses. Simply post the fee ahead of time and allow people to help via PayPal or slip you some cash at the door.
It’s not unusual to have a pre-gathering the night before your mini-PLUS. Although certainly not a requirement, many people without other plans will naturally congregate at a local restaurant or park to get a head start on talking. Some call these “Red Cup Socials” but you can view them as just another way to bring decorators together. Let people know ahead of time when and where a pre-gathering can take place. You certainly don’t have to be there but others will appreciate having a known spot to get together if they have extra time.
If a PlanetChristmas vendor is close to you, feel free to call and ask if they would like to supply literature about their products to hand out to your mini-PLUS attendees but don’t expect free merchandise. Keep in mind vendors need to make a profit to stay in business so they can sell us the great Christmas decorations we’ve come to expect.
Hopefully you’re realizing sponsoring a mini-PLUS is not a big deal. Keep it simple by not over-planning and let the attendees do what they prefer: talk about Christmas.
And there’s one last mini-PLUS request: Be sure to invite Chuck Smith!
From the July 2009 edition of PlanetChristmas Magazine
by Chuck Smith