How to Plan a Retreat

You can see it all now. Eager attendees are streaming into a vast room. They grab their coffee and their pastry and settle in. Their eagerness to learn what you have to offer them fills the room.

If that is your end goal, the first question you need to ask is, how do I get started getting to that goal? If you have ever attended any type of retreat, you know how satisfying a great one is. You also know how disappointing a subpar event can be. So how do you plan a retreat?

The logistical and financial challenges on how to plan a retreat are endless. It is essential that you have the knowledge and experience to begin to make your plan. Then you must address every one of the many details that go into the event. In the end, you want attendees to leave feeling like they cannot wait for your next retreat.

Many components make up a great retreat. With a bit of planning and thought upfront, you can plan a memorable retreat.

Are You Ready to Plan a Retreat?

How many retreats have you attended? It is a fair statement to say that if you have not been to many, you are not ready to lead one.

Make sure you do your homework and have seen retreats at work. You don’t need to go to an endless cavalcade of events. Simply attend a few to see how they work. The fact is, the more you know, the better prepared you are.

Find things that interest you and see if you can find retreats that match your interest. Retreats like this help you with how to plan a retreat. These retreats will also get you some personal benefit and enlightenment from the event.

Even with the best planning, a retreat can be hard to pull off if you’ve never seen many of them first hand. If you have not done this first, you don’t know how to plan a retreat.

Ask Yourself: What Is My Retreat About?

Is your retreat professional or personal? Who is your audience? Who do you want to attend? How will you get the word out about the retreat? These are all important questions to ask before you start the planning process. Some attendees may include:

  • Those that want to spend a lot of money and expect a very high-end and inclusive experience
  • Knowledgeable customers who are looking for particular topics and information
  • Customers who understand the topic but want to gain more knowledge in one area
  • Those that have little or no knowledge of your topic and want to learn as much as possible
  • Co-workers or employees that you want to educate or reward
  • A group of like-minded individuals looking for a beneficial shared experience

As you can see, many different groups can take part in a retreat. As you begin to hone in on the group type, the size of the group may come into focus. You also may start to focus your choice of location and venue.

So once you have answered this question, you can begin to build out the criteria for your retreat.

Brainstorming Your Plan

Let’s say I asked you to build a spaceship right now. If you have no experience building a spaceship, how would you even start? What would be your first step? How would you even know what a potential first step should be?

The point is you need to make a plan for your plan. Make it a point to sit down and figure out everything you will need to organize your retreat. As an example, when thinking about a venue, what items are essential?

It can be easy to fall for the trap of a simple checklist. You google “how to plan a retreat” and see six items. You figure you will complete them one by one in no time at all. The trick is the detail that lives in each step.

Business or Pleasure?

One consideration to make is whether this is a retreat for business or pleasure purposes. It could also be both. Time to team build for your company with time for personal growth and fulfillment as well.

Corporate and business retreats tend to focus on solving issues for an occupation.  These are the types of retreats most people are familiar with.

A personal or pleasure retreat can focus on something as simple as personal wellness. While this may seem like just a niche to some retreat planners, the Global Wellness Institute reports that wellness tourism had a $639 billion global market in 2017.

In addition, according to a report from SpaFinder 365, this market that used to be the exclusive realm of the wealthy and women is now finding a much broader demographic.

While the goals of these various retreats may be quite different, the planning of all of them is quite similar.

Do You Need Approval?

Are you planning a retreat for your company? Unless you are the boss, look before you leap. Before you go headlong into planning, seek approval first. A retreat will involve abundant cost and time away from the workplace. Make sure your superiors understand this.

Start the process by forming a general game plan. Come up with some amount of detail on cost and logistics. Present this as an outline to your company to make sure you are all on the same page. Make note of the fact that well-planned retreats can lead to a more productive workplace.

Also, let your bosses know that according to a Gallup report called “State of the American Workplace”, disengaged and stressed employees cost employers $300 billion dollars per year.

Make this a general outline without a ton of detail. You do not know all the logistics and costs yet, so do not pretend to know. Do enough research to give an overview. If that meets with approval, you can begin to research the details.

Make Your Goals or Purpose Clear

Make sure you understand the goal of the retreat. You will never be able to communicate that to attendees if you do not understand it yourself.

So, for example, are you planning a retreat to talk about issues at your company? Are you doing this as a team-building exercise? Is this a retreat for those that share a passion for a hobby like yoga?

Are you planning an event for a group of like-minded people? Is this a getaway or a well-organized vacation? How much time will you spend as a group and how much will you do on your own?

As you answer these questions, you will get a better idea of how to plan the event. It will help to determine how you sell the event, what you charge for the event, and how you will generate interest.

How Many Attendees

Once you understand the type of customer you are inviting, you need to consider how many you invite. Costs and revenues rise with more attendees. If this is your first retreat, be smart and start small. Better to have a great retreat that you wish you could have sold to fifty more people.

It is imperative that you understand how daunting a task this is. That is especially true the first time you contemplate how to plan a retreat. Start small and work up to bigger events as you gain experience.

Consider the Value You Offer

Any potential retreat attendee is going to ask, “is this worth it?” So you need to understand the value proposition that you offer. In other words, how much information and experience you offer versus what you will charge.

Start this process by asking yourself what your potential attendees’ biggest pain is. If you are not solving this problem, no price is low enough. If you do solve the problem, the sky can be the limit on what you can charge.

While it may seem that this can vary based on the type of retreat that is not the case. People attend retreats to meet a need. That is true when they want to learn how to land more clients. It is also true when they want to learn how to knit an incredible quilt.

The sales pitch, the venue, and the cost might be different, but the role of filling a need remains the same.

There’s No Such Thing As Over Marketing

Some may believe that planning a retreat is the problematic part. Then you begin to try to market and sell the retreat and see how wrong you were.

Make sure you have taken the time to understand your target customer. They are a target customer for a reason. If you do not know who they are, how can you know how to target them?

Once you understand the target, make sure you are precise in your targeting. Find ways to make sure your retreat stands out from others. Create all descriptions of your retreat in an accurate manner. No word or thought is unimportant or trivial.

After crafting your message, begin to plan where it will resonate. Will you go the route of free mediums, or will you have an advertising budget? If this is a retreat for co-workers or employees, the answer is simple. If you are selling your retreat to strangers, the answer becomes more complicated.

Always remember that you only have one chance at a first impression. Do not waste it.

Make Your Retreat Valuable to All

You want your retreat to be a memorable experience for attendees. You want attendees that are inspired by the end of the retreat. Attendees that are so inspired that they cannot wait to come to your next retreat. Be mindful not to get caught up in their excitement and begin to feel like you are an attendee yourself.

Your job is to keep this train running. There will be an endless amount of items for you to pay attention to carefully. If you are getting distracted by the excitement of the event, you may begin to miss things. When that happens, the quality of your retreat will start to slip.

There is no worse feeling than to have a retreat that is going great that falls off the rails. Stay focused from start to finish. Assure yourself of happy customers that will likely come to your next event.

Your goal should not only be to have one great retreat. You want to build repeat customers. With those in your pocket, the job of marketing your next retreat will be far more manageable. Also, the size and scope of your retreats can begin to grow with each retreat you offer.

What Will You Guarantee?

Potential attendees are going to want assurance that they are getting a good value. Ensuring value can become a tricky proposition when you begin to throw the word “guarantee” around.

Imagine paying a large amount of money for something you will not receive right away. Doing this can lead to wariness on the part of potential attendees. Give careful consideration of promises of results.

Do not offer something that you’re not sure you can deliver. Being confident of what you can deliver is very important when you plan your first retreat. You are leaping into the unknown, so do not make promises you cannot keep.

Your goal is to make sure your customers are confident both when they book and when the retreat is over. That leads to happy attendees that will come back time and again.

What Are You Promising to Deliver to Potential Customers

Begin by making sure you are laser-focused on what you’re presenting. Do not try to be everything to everyone. There is nothing worse for a retreat attendee than to leave feeling like they did not learn anything.

This result can often occur when you are offering:

  • Too many choices
  • Too many events at the same time
  • Too little time for attendees to practice what you preach

It is a good idea to plan your itinerary and then show it to people you trust. See if they can follow what you are offering. Make sure they can do this without you standing over their shoulder telling them.

Once you have done that, ask them some simple questions. See if they understand what your retreat is covering or offering. Do they see value in your retreat? Do they understand what they will learn? Do they know what they will be doing every minute of the retreat?

Your goal should be to make sure every attendee experiences everything you offer. You most likely cannot guide every attendee, so make the itinerary of the event is concise and clear.

Tell Them What They Will Get and How They Will Get There

Make your pitch to attendees telling them that they will:

  • Learn specific skills, knowledge or information
  • Will have time to work and practice using that information
  • Have time to come up with new questions about the material presented

From there, you want to make sure that all attendees have absorbed all the information of the retreat. Be sure that when attendees leave your retreat, they completely understand the topic.

A part of your sales pitch should be to tell attendees what they will leave with at the end of the retreat. Your offer should be something that is tangible that they can apply in their daily lives after the retreat.

Make sure this deliverable is something concrete. Something like you will leave with 100 sales leads or 25 article ideas. It can also be some manner of personal enrichment. It could even be a promise that they and their company will flourish.

A well-planned retreat has a virtually unlimited market. A recent article from CPA Practice Advisor shows that only 20% of companies partake in company retreats despite their numerous benefits.

Make Sure the Plan of Action Is Clear to Your Customers

Planning for a retreat should include the detailed itinerary that you can highlight. This type of agenda is helpful for your upfront sales. It shows customers exactly how they will be spending their time. Make sure the itinerary is not too broad or too generic.

Include a very specific agenda that details activities. Tie that into how that contributes to their experience at the retreat.

Be mindful that you do not spread yourself too thin at the retreat. If you are planning, marketing, selling, and executing the retreat, you may run out of time in the day. Do not get to the retreat and find that you cannot accomplish all the things you planned.

Make Sure You Close Strong

If you have ever attended an all-day or multi-day event, you know how attention spans can fade at the end of the event. Do not let thoughts of getting back home creep into the mind of attendees.

Make it a point to include a final group experience. Let all attendees share their thoughts and ideas about the retreat. Try to have them explain how the retreat has benefited them.

This type of exercise serves three purposes:

  • It keeps attendees engaged in the event
  • It drives home the critical points of the retreat
  • It helps to leave attendees feeling that the retreat was worthwhile

It can also raise low energy levels in a retreat. Doing the same thing for an extended period can drain energy. Make the final event something that blows the roof off the retreat.

Logistical Considerations

Once you have decided on the topics and the number of attendees, it is time to start on the logistics of the retreat. Your goal should be to keep your costs as low as possible to maximize profitability.

If this is the first retreat you have planned, think about keeping your price point low. Your goal in this retreat may not be so much about profitability, but about word-of-mouth. Even if this is a company event, start small to ensure all attendees get the best experience.

If this retreat is any more than a one-off, repeat business is going to be the lifeblood of your retreat. As such, you need as many first-time customers as possible. From there, your goal is to have a retreat that creates as many return customers as possible.

Keep an Eye on These Costs

Be mindful of how many people are on your “payroll” for this first retreat. In a perfect world, you will be doing all the presenting at this initial retreat. As your retreats grow in size, you can begin to add other outside presenters and speakers.

Your single most significant cost is likely going to be the venue. Make sure you get something that is nice but not extravagant. It is an easy trap to try to book a venue that will impress attendees. Remember that it is the content of the retreat that will impress much more than the venue.

Try to avoid too many giveaways and extras that increase your costs. If these are things that somebody else will pay for, that is fine. Do not cut into your bottom line with needless frills.

Who Will Present?

If you are going to have outside presenters, make sure you are extracting as much value as possible. One great way to cut costs is to have speakers and presenters teleconference in. Telecommunication eliminates any travel costs, yet attendees still get the benefit of their wisdom.

Try to make the attendees the stars of the show. When you are building your itinerary, focus on activities, and exercises the attendees do. Not only does this keep your costs down, but it is also a great way to hammer home the points made in the retreat.

Why not let some of the attendees be presenters? They can share their pain points, and then you can guide the group to help solve them. Letting attendees present serves as a great exercise to teach other attendees. The added benefit is it solves the pain point of an attendee. That is the ultimate goal of attendance at a retreat.

Where Will the Event Occur?

One of the most intimidating parts of how to plan a retreat is paying for the venue. It can be daunting to pay a large sum of money for a venue without knowing how many people will attend. A good solution is not to do this.

Start the process by selling spots to the retreat first. As you begin to see the size of the retreat, you can then decide on a venue. A good rule of thumb is to take the number of people that immediately sign up. From there, double that number, and that will make up your total audience.

Most first-time retreat builders tend to think their choices for a venue are a home or a hotel. If you are going the route of a private home, make sure you take into account lodging if it is a multi-day event. You will also need to take into account how to handle food and beverages.

This choice is more cost-effective, yeah involves quite a bit more logistical challenges.

Another alternative is a hotel with meeting space. In this scenario, your logistics are much more streamlined. The trade-off is that your cost can go up quite a bit. Business hotels specialize in this type of event. They are, of course, going to charge you a pretty penny for that convenience.

A sometimes overlooked third alternative is a dedicated retreat center. These centers usually offer many gathering spaces. They are generally far less expensive than hotels. It is crucial to manage the flow of your attendees. You do not want them bumping into folks from other retreats. You want your attendees to feel special, like they are the only ones at the space.

A simple Google search can lead you to many of these types of event spaces. reports that “prices for conference retreat centers can start at $55 to $70 per person for a day retreat and go up to $300 to $350 per person for an overnight stay with recreational activities, food and lodging.”

Be mindful of their pricing throughout the year. You may find a time of year but is much more cost-effective than another that will work for your retreat.

What Will You Charge for the Retreat?

The choice of what you will charge for the retreat seems like a simple question. There are essential variables to consider. One key consideration is whether the price is all-inclusive. Will you pay for meals and lodging, or will that be an extra charge to your attendees?

Attendees tend to prefer an all-inclusive price. Since you know your cost, it is best to build it into an all-inclusive price. The amount the attendee pays is the same, but they will see more value in an all-inclusive price.

Final Thoughts

The question of how to plan a retreat can be daunting. If you have never planned a retreat before, that is especially true. The most important thing to remember in planning a retreat is not only to plan but understand your plan.

It is fair to say that most people have been to some type of retreat or seminar. Take those experiences to heart and learn from them. Apply them to what you are planning at your retreat. With so much to do, it is easy to miss or overlook something.

Always keep in mind that the most important thing is that attendees see value in your retreat. The concept of value is important both when you are selling them on the initial idea and when they finish the retreat. You need to attract first-time customers, and you need to keep those customers.

Leave a Comment