Mindful Meetings And Wellness at Events
Balance Comes To Planning
Every year multiple publications publish a list of the most stressful jobs. Inevitably, they are filled with occupations that deal in life or death situations. The only vocation that has a seemingly permanent position on this list where a wrong move rarely results in the loss of life or major injury is the event planner (also described as coordinator in some polls). Our industry has had a history of poor work/life balance due to the inherent stressful nature of the job, the hospitality and service roles one plays, and the unmovable deadline that is the event itself. While this has no doubt negatively impacted the lives of planners, it has also been affecting the lives of attendees as well.
Wellness’s Role At Events
Taking wellness into account when designing an event is no longer a trend, its a way of life for clients. Thinking of it as a fad is a mistake – it will be an ongoing consideration in all aspects of planning from this point on. Events and meetings can not afford to be behind the curve in this area of our attendees’ lives but instead should aim to be progressive examples of optimal ways to live. The shift occurs when you think of meetings and events as a health food instead of junk food. For too long, these occasions were seen as outside of the lives of our attendees as opposed to integrating into their lives. Our attendees are in our care when we design their experiences and when you are aware of that responsibility, priorities shift.
Mindfulness Is Not Fluff
In a bottom-line driven corporate world, often times the importance of mindfulness can take the backseat to areas that seem more tangible. Larger corporations now have enough data to show that the mind needs as much exercise as the body (if not more) for optimal work output as well as retention of team members. Mindfulness is good for business. Depression, stress, lack of focus and productivity have no positive impact for members of teams or the whole of the company but ways to combat these ills are less obvious than wellness techniques such as an increase in water consumption and stretching. For the past two years, IMEX America’s “Be Well at IMEX America” program has been a response to meeting and event planner’s need for education on this topic. Classes on breathing, meditation, and stress relief were once again available during MPI’s Smart Monday as well as the IMEX America Exhibition. Retreats from the sensory overload of the conference week included massages, an area to pet puppies, they even had the best corporate chocolate gifts for those who attended! When designing experiences, it is mandatory to have a holistic approach that takes the psychological effects of our meetings and event’s impact into consideration.
Yoga offers an opportunity for both wellness and mindfulness with low barriers for ad
option that increases its likelihood for inclusiveness and affect. Simply having a Yoga break is an option but there are so many ways to further integrate the art of Yoga into the goals of your event. Like any collaborator of an event, involving the Yoga instructor early into your planning and letting them offer you suggested ways to integrate their expertise into your design goals will produce the best results. The music and movements chosen could very easily reflect and underline the theme of your meeting or even compliment the previous session’s educational content. Also, Yoga mats are a very under-utilized branding opportunity for the right sponsor.
It’s hard to imagine any decision you make as a planner that contributes to the wellness of your attendees more than the selection of food and beverage for the meeting or event. Once again, the best results come from collaboration. Bringing the venue or catering chef into a discussion on wellness as well as the high-level themes of the event should mean a menu that is aligned with the overall vision of the client that is also in the best interest of your attendees. While coffee stations are common practice to imbue guests with high levels of caffeine, blended juice from fruit and vegetables can produce similar healthier results without the crash that comes from coffee which hurts attendee concentration later in the program.
Run or Walk – Movement Matter
Another example of IMEX America‘s Wellness program was their IMEXrun which had over 800 attendees waking up early to run a course together prior to the start of their day. Not only was this training the meeting and event planners taking part about the value of incorporating activities like this into their own programs, but it also must of had a positive impact on the following day’s levels of concentration and overall physical health of what is a long conference day. An added benefit was the networking opportunity of a gamified event which resulted in new sponsorship opportunities and branded giveaways for participants. While something of this scale may not be appropriate for every client, movement should always be incorporated into design of attendee experiences and is best when made fun.
Activities with no desired outcome other than enjoyment of the moment are powerful tools for mindful events. One example is Brickworkz, which provides customized Lego experiences ideal for stress relief and fostering creativity. Endless possibilities are available that can incorporate team building (literally) exercises, gamification, or just an oasis of a fun activity. With this example, branding, event themes, and purpose can easily be subtly incorporated all while positively impacting the mental well being of your attendees.
Our sponsors, exhibitors, and presenters expect us to create environments that allow attendees to focus on what they are providing them. If your event was next to loud construction or even distracting music, you would be at fault as the planner and yet internal distractions and what leads up to them aren’t often given as much weight. It has been standard practice to allow for breaks in-between speakers and in other programs but those are often relegated to bio-break opportunities and snacks. Inevitability, these breaks are unfocused minutes spent catching up on emails and social media. Breaks with lack of design and purpose can compound anxieties and decrease concentration with each occurrence. Think of your breaks like palate cleansers. by providing a loose structure without many itemized rules, breaks will be thoughtful while still giving your attendees the opportunity to go to a different place for a few minutes within their minds.
Often meetings result in notes, the exchange of business cards, and post meeting data analysis. It can all be a bit…left-brain. Where does creativity fit in for attendees who need to express their feelings about their experiences in a less linear fashion? Artistic activities not only allow the subconscious a voice but it often de-stresses at the same time. The rise of the “adult coloring book” can be seen at almost all retail outlets as a reaction to a world of increasing time spent looking at digital content on screens. Incorporating this phenomenon into your events could have incredibly creative results for your meeting or event’s goals while offering a calming influence on attendees. Recently, event furniture rental company, AFR Furniture Rentals have even incorporated coloring book activities into their table designs as part of their #coloryourevents campaign.
Holistic Events Are The Future
Incorporating non-linear activities that are on-theme and have purpose might seem contradictory but the answers are often much simpler than you think. Your attendees have put in your charge. The differences between experiences and designed experiences is planning. Offer your attendees a better way of life while they are in your care.