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    Tommy's teacher saw him spacing out the window, and asked him to get focused back on his drawing. “Oh, I'm already done,” Tommy informed her. “See, here are his eyes and nose.” “Uh… I only see three black dots on your blank paper. Who is he, and where is the rest of him?” replied the teacher.

    “He's a polar bear” said Tommy matter-of-factly “and he is out in a snowstorm.”

    Now whether you regard Tommy as a genius or a slacker is up to you, but this story can help us remember something when planning a retreat, conference, or other event. Ready?

    Bring the polar bear – but also bring the snowstorm!

    Brilliant, huh? Let me explain.

    In this analogy, the black marks of the polar bear are the different things you have planned out for the schedule of your event. Sessions, breakouts, seminars, workshops, etc. and hopefully some mealtimes. You probably have more than just three things on the schedule, making your polar bear a little more defined. But don't forget the snowstorm! That's the area where the schedule is blank. No session. No workshops. Just white space.

    It is in the white space that people linger over lunch, or continue a conversation. They connect with others, process what they have been taking in, or just take a mental break. Sometimes they take a nap!

    It takes some bravery to maintain white space on an event schedule. One sign of an insecure presenter worried that they are not bringing enough value is that they tend to ratchet up the quantity, delivering too much content in hopes we all feel like we got our money's worth. The same is true for event planners – but when we invite people to come and “drink from the fire hose” there is a chance that they will come away wet, but still thirsty.

    Some types of events don't lend themselves to white space – stadium type events, and these “one day” seminars or streaming events, where you have a series of big name speakers lecturing to a crowd. They are efficient in that they maximize the exposure of the big name speakers, getting their message in front of thousands of eyes and ears. And it seems silly to add white space into that environment, since they are rarely conducive to anything but listening (unless you think that balancing box lunches on your knees and shouting conversation to your neighbors counts as quality time.) So of course they plow through, from one session, to the next, to the next. And at the end of the day you leave with your head spinning from a flash flood of great ideas that never truly stuck.

    White space makes the most sense in an environment where you are meeting, eating, sleeping, and relaxing under one roof – and preferably one where there are some great views, or other focal points (fireplaces, fountains, etc) that go well with conversation and contemplation. So even though this idea of incorporating white space may be a “201” idea, it depends on a “101” basic of event planning: find the right venue. For the past 15 years I have had the luxury of programming events at Sandy Cove, and seeing how adding white space into the schedule actually adds value to our guests. But I am willing to share that luxury – if you are looking for a venue that can help you deliver more than a fire hose experience to your participants, contact Sandy Cove to find out about hosting your event here.

    And say “hi” when you come – I'll be the one watching the sunset over the water through the big windows on either side of the fireplace.

    If you'd like to explore Sandy Cove as a possible “event” venue, start here.

    Nate Ransil
    Nate joined the Program department at Sandy Cove in 2003, and transitioned to director of that team in 2014. Nate graduated from Houghton College with a double major in Communication and Outdoor Recreation (yes, it is a thing) and got to know his wife Evelyn while co-leading backpacking trips for at-risk youth. Hopefully not as at-risk are their two sons, Caleb and TJ, who have spent all their summers at Sandy Cove, Camp Sandy Cove, and The MARSH! Nate enjoys being outside, being inside, being handy, the beach, snowboarding, roller coasters, training aardvarks, bodybuilding, contributing to quantum theory, and making up fanciful, if not entirely accurate, biographical details.
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