Making All The Stuff

I often describe September as my “Nightmare Month.” It seems as though everything has decided to start up after the Summer doldrums, and life becomes busy. Meetings are scheduled, programs restart, and traffic becomes awful 1.

For me, personally, it means Annual Session. This is the annual gathering of the American Baptist Churches of New Jersey, for which I serve as the Communications Coordinator. I begin working on this event back in March, and it becomes an ever more ravenous consumer of my time the closer September approaches.

The process begins with a logo design, moves on to creating a language for the promotional materials, and then migrates to setting up a section for Annual Session on our web site. Once this these tasks are complete I set up our online registration and begin the promotional campaign in earnest. In mid April I’ll also create the cover for our Annual Directory.

Then the work begins.

Around late April I take the general design of the promotional materials and use it to create a custom keynote theme 2. Then, in early to mid-June, we send out a call to the staff for their annual reports. These are due by the end of July for inclusion in our annual directory. We also reach out to the people who will be presenting at Annual Session and offer them the use of the projection system, provided they follow our guidelines 3. These materials are due the second week of September, but we often get them right up until the week prior to Annual Session 4. Once our requests are sent out, July is mostly reiterating our promotions and waiting.

August hits us like a violent wave.

Staff reports come in, and our editor and I sit down to go over the submissions. We try to keep each staff person in their own voice, but clean up grammar and punctuation 5. Once we go over the preliminary edits, these reports get dropped into our Annual Directory project. The edited reports are then looked over by the full-time office staff and further tweaked until they reach the status of “release candidate.” At this point some other outside readers are asked to read through things to catch stuff we have missed 6.

Once the staff reports are finalized, we run several reports from our database 7 to generate our regional directory. These are exported to PDF’s and brought into the directory project 8. When these reports are complete we send it to the printer to get back a proof. After proof-reading the proof 9, we finalize the print order 10. The aim is to have this project finalized by the end of August.

Then September drops like an anvil as materials for the presentation begin arriving in earnest. Speaker photos appear 11 Presenter slides show up for inclusion into our presentation 12. Video clips show up in a shared folder, and I work through several video projects for use in the keynote. SWAG materials need to be finalized for inclusion in the registration packets 13. In September the podium schedule, which is usually under revision throughout the Summer, is finalized. This schedule maps out every word that’s said from the podium 14. Once the podium schedule is complete, I use my custom Keynote theme to create the slides for Annual Session — adding in the videos, presenter slides 15, and special music 16. I’ll work on tweaking these slides sometimes until the evening before Annual Session.

The week of Annual Session I show my semi-finalized visuals to our Senior Regional Pastor, and add slides I may have missed. Once registration is closed, we fix peoples names 17, and then print out name tags. All the inserts for the registration packets are printed, the directories are delivered, and our excellent office manager gets everything set up for a massive “stuffing party.” We also finalize our sound and video needs with our AV company. On my last day in the office before Annual Session I pack all my equipment and lug it home.

The Thursday prior to Annual Session all the materials are packed into a van, and we all hope we didn’t miss anything. On Friday we have an educational event for folks, and then we go to sleep and wake up Saturday morning praying nothing explodes.

Annual Session is my annual nightmare, and September is the worst bit of said nightmare, but there’s also something cool about it. I get to see a few hundred people walking around with, enjoying, or perusing things I made. Maybe the nightmare is worth it.


  1. Which is made worse when your tranquil back road route is suddenly under construction. Sigh. 
  2. I have to say, this is a lot of fun. Yes, I’m a nerd. 
  3. Which almost no one does. Sigh. 
  4. I’ve had people try to hand me things the morning of Annual Session. I stare at them until they go away. 
  5. We also enforce a blanket ban on any form of the words “inspire” and “share” These are Christian filler words which are used when people can’t think of anything else to write. 
  6. There is always something we miss. 
  7. After the office staff sits down together to double-check the data for changes that have not been committed to the database. 
  8. Just FYI, Affinity Publisher is wonderful
  9. There is always something missed. 
  10. Yes, I know. It’s paper. I’m not fond of the printed directory and Annual Session workbook. I’d much rather have a link to a PDF registrants get with their registration. If people want a printed copy, we can designate that in their registration. Printing these things costs a lot of money. 
  11. Which almost inevitably have to be re-requested. 
  12. Bullet-laden slides are deleted and the content is added to the presenter’s script. 
  13. And I also created a variant of our region logo to adorn the bags this year, which was nice. In fact, I like it better than our actual logo. 
  14. Pro-tip. Never allow someone to “wing” anything. People who freak out about having to speak for two minutes will end up speaking for 20. I kid not. 
  15. Minus bullet point laden slides, of course. 
  16. Oh yah, I also get the song lyrics from the musicians so people can sing along. This can be the easiest thing I do for Annual Session, or the most agonizing. I’ve found that musicians don’t hit the middle ground when it comes to working well with others. They are either amazing at it, or incapable. I suppose that might be true for most folks, but it’s more noticeable with musician types. 
  17. You’d be surprised how many people fill out forms IN ALL CAPS, or who insist their first name begins with a title. 

6 Thoughts

  1. Heeeeeey! It’s been…(checks watch)…a few months…how’s it going, besides crazy? I’m working at, like, four schools now, and maybe having a moment to read here and there. Writing is…sigh…a dream, I guess, at least right now. How are you?

    1. My kids are already asking about Christmas. We haven’t even finished decorating for fall yet, let alone see any trees change color in the neighborhood! (sigh) lots of rushing about with our heads cut off, it seems…

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