Amy Carroll » Sharing Deeply » Leading a Retreat– The Difference Between Retreats and Keynotes

Leading a Retreat– The Difference Between Retreats and Keynotes

Hey, y’all! It’s been a great summer break, but I’m happy to be back with you.

Melanie and I are in the midst of planning our blogging year, and we’d love to hear from you. Please leave any speaking/writing questions you have in the comments, and we’ll use your needs to determine future blog posts.

We’ll start with a question from our friend Laura who asked:

I have done lots of speaking at events, but don’t have much experience doing retreats. I’ve been asked to do a 3 day retreat, and I’m wondering what unique advice you or the community might have for retreats vs. keynote speaking.

I’m excited about this question because retreats are my favorite! I have a lot to share, so the next few weeks are going to contain a short series about preparing for retreats.

The first thing to tackle is the differences between keynotes and retreats. Understanding these differences will help you to prepare and to lead a retreat successfully.

Difference #1– Retreats Demand More of You

This truth is a pro for some and a con for others. I believe that most of my best ministry happens off the stage, and this is especially true at retreats. Speakers need to head into retreat weekends rested and ready to give of themselves. Event planners and attendees will appreciate the time with you.

One retreat coordinator asked me, “Will you spend time with our women?” When I started digging around trying to figure out the root of that question, she explained to me that their speaker the year before was seen only on stage. She was completely absent otherwise, including meal times and leisure times.

I believe that speaker missed ministry opportunities. At keynote events, we’re often in and out with little opportunity to interact with our audience, but at a retreat, there are times for prayer, encouragement and more leisurely conversations. Let’s make sure we go in ready to serve that way.

There are some caveats. For example, I don’t stay up all night with the women since I need to form full sentences the next day. 🙂 I’ll hang around for a little while after the sessions are over, but I let the event planner know that I’ll duck out at a reasonable hour to get some sleep. I often catch a nap on Saturday afternoons when the attendees have free time too. Being “on” for a whole weekend is exhausting even for us extroverts!

Spending time off the stage with attendees is important. Sit with them at meals, and be prepared to spend time before and after sessions, making yourself accessible for conversations.

(Practical Tip: I always travel with earplugs since retreats can be loud even during sleeping hours. I’ve found earplugs let me rejoice in their fun without seething at the noise!)

Difference #2– Retreats Allow You to Go Deeper

This is the aspect of retreats that I especially love. I’m a Bible study girl, so the extended time allows me to dive deeper into Scripture than a keynote. I’ll give more thoughts about that in relation to preparation next week.

Going deeper gives you more freedom in lots of ways. For example, I rarely have handouts for keynotes, but I always have handouts for retreats. I’m not a big fill-in-the-blank girl, so I usually include a key verse and space to take notes. I also add 3 sections at the bottom of my notes:

  • Transformation Points
    • In this section I include 3-4 questions related to my session that attendees can ponder on or journal about when they have time alone with God.
  • Recommended Reading
    • So that attendees can go deeper on their own, I list books and other resources in this section.
  • My Contact Information
    • I love to stay connected through the resources I offer, so I give my blog address as well as the way to find my podcast and social media.

Which do you like better–retreats or keynotes? We’d love to hear from you!



Are you interested in speaker or writer coaching, but you’re a little afraid? Not sure if the critique will be too harsh for your heart? Here’s what Penni Jo had to say…

“I just have to say, you have no idea that it is absolutely an unexpected gift from God that you aren’t a rigid, overly Type-A, “can’t think out-of-the-box”  kind of coach. It’s also a gift that you have SO MUCH grace and don’t expect perfection—but at the same time challenge me to give this my best. You’re the perfect balance. Thank you so much.”

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  1. Blessings to you all! I have s few retreats coming up, along with keynotes. I love retreats, because I love one-on-one heart ministry. But I did appreciate your encouragement to get good sleep and to have times away. Thanks!

    1. It’s a gentle balance, isn’t it? We’re called to pour ourselves out, but we have to take care of ourselves a little to do it!

  2. Amy, thanks for addressing this! I am also a Bible study girl, so digging deeper at a retreat is easier for me than doing a keynote. I’d love to see some more tips for keynotes!

    I have also had retreat planners tell me that previous retreat speakers did not spend any time with the women. I believe my whole weekend belongs to them. I go as a minister for the women and not simply as a “speaker” during the session times. And yes, it can be exhausting, but more ministry happens over meals, games, and quiet conversations. And it always a personal blessing to me!

    1. I love that we’re both retreat girls!

  3. Thanks so much for addressing this! Great info and I’m all ears! Love the suggestion of 3 sections at bottom of handout!

    1. I’m thankful for your great question, Laura! Hope these are helpful. I sure do want to hear about how your retreat goes. 🙂

  4. Oh my goodness! You have no idea just how timely this post is for me!! God truly knows what we need down to the details.
    I am leading a retreat this weekend! It’s my first one and I’m feeling a bit nervous. Preparing for this is SO different than just speaking for 20 minutes at a conference.

    I was just wondering this morning when your next post was going to show up and if it was going to be something beneficial to me! Imagine my response when I opened the email with your post on “leading a retreat”!!!

    I appreciate the wisdom about making myself available to the women. I’m looking forward to that. There will be 65-70 women, so I’m not exactly sure how many of them will want to talk to me one-on-one.

    I totally agree that retreats allow you to go deeper. I’ve been excited to expand my key points and dig deeper into God’s word.

    I needed the reminder about being rested! I’m really bad about getting sufficient sleep before a ministry opportunity. I’ll need to slow down and make myself get to bed earlier every day this week.

    I wish I could see your next few posts NOW before my retreat this weekend! 🙂
    This post is a breath of fresh air to me this morning and I KNOW God has used YOU to speak to me directly.

    Blessings to you!

    1. Lisa, I stopped and prayed for you and your retreat before I wrote this comment, and I know God use you greatly! Let us hear how it goes. I really do care!

  5. I don’t speak much at all but I do have several talks ready to give. And they are written in a way that I can turn them into three different sessions for a retreat or keep it as a whole for keynotes.

    I’m not sure if I have a preference between keynote speaker or retreat speaker. I’ve done a little of both. Usually, I’m just excited to go anywhere and share a message from the Lord.