FOR SOME, MEETINGS HAVE COME ON APACE since the days when delegates were holed up for hours while speakers talked at them and subjected them to death-by-Powerpoint.
Engaging participants before the event; audience participation; light, tasty food (sometimes); and engaging speakers all play a part in the ‘wellbeing’ meetings trend that aims to ensure delegates go away stimulated and having taken onboard the required messages. And this means return on investment.
The most recent addition to this cornucopia of good practice is meetings on the move – walking and talking at the same time. Well-known peripatetic protagonists have included the late Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama and Sir Richard Branson – who posted an article about it on the Virgin website: “In London I used to enlist collaborators on a stroll around the canals of Little Venice. The edge of the lake is a well-trodden path in Kidlington… while walking meetings on Necker come with an ocean view. There must be something about water that gets my creativity flowing.”
The Virgin mogul continues: “It’s very rare that a meeting on a single topic should need to last more than 5-10 minutes. If you stand up, you’ll find that decisions get made pretty quickly and no one nods off – plus it’s a great way to fit in a bit of exercise and stay focused on a busy day. Another positive about meetings outside the boardroom is a lack of fancy tools and, instead, an emphasis on real communication.”
Fay Sharpe is sales and marketing managing director at event management specialist Zibrant. She took to ‘walking internal meetings’, in order to build training for the company’s charity challenges into a busy day. “I didn’t have time to fit that in as well as everything else I had to do, so I decided to catch up with my marketing team on the move with a 45- minute training walk each day,” she says. “For small groups, it was very effective. Generally, you get the point over quickly – you tend to procrastinate more when you are sitting down and have an agenda in front of you.”
She says it’s been popular with her team. “It stimulates creativity and it’s good not having technology in the way, which allows you to be more mindful and think about things rather than be rushing to get back to your emails.”
OUT AND ABOUT
A recent survey undertaken by Center Parcs showed that 51 per cent of workers polled spent time outside only during lunch or as part of their commute, and 59 per cent stated they find time spent outdoors relaxing.
Companies that include I2C, Experian and Jeep take to Center Parcs villages’ extensive grounds for teambuilding activities as part of a conference programme.
Creative use of Center Parcs’ facilities include a Caribbean beach party on the lake at the Elveden Forest property, a shoal of watersport activities at Woburn Forest and orienteering at Sherwood Forest.
Managing director of Sundial Group Tim Chudley refers to meetings with movement as “slow meetings” and, in a blog, states that research shows that neurologically, the brain appreciates the rest brought by nature’s contrast to modern technological life, enabling it to tune in more effectively to fresh thought and perspectives. POWER DRAIN
Despite all that has been written about ‘beige food’, many organisers still give delegates finger buffet items that are largely made up of pastry or bread, leading to a sugar spike followed by a sugar low and attendant lack of energy. This feeds into the dreaded graveyard slot, the session after lunch when delegates struggle (indeed, fail) to stay awake.
Corinthia Hotels has addressed this by introducing Food for Thought menus devised by nutritional therapist Jeannette Hyde. These are based on protein, whole grains, vegetables and gluten-free ingredients. Dishes also reflect what is available locally: in Malta, for example, guinea fowl, rabbit, oily fish, grains such as buckwheat, and black and brown rice grace the menu.
And IET London: Savoy Place works with Kate Cook, consultant to incumbent caterer Harbour and Jones. Her passions include supergrain kaniwa, seaweed for its iron content, and coconut cream and raspberries for vitamins A, E and C. “We plan our menus to improve delegates’ energy levels and balance their blood sugar, so that they can refuel at lunch and go back to their meetings full of energy and bursting with creativity,” says executive head chef Anthony O’Donnell.
“Venues have a large part to play in ensuring delegate productivity, and there is no doubt that the room has a big psychological impact on the audience,” says Unique Venues of London general manager Lisa Hatswell. So treating delegates like mushrooms, keeping them in the dark and shovelling Powerpoint presentations on them is clearly not the way forward. Although any event that involves a lot of projection or stage work will need a darkened room, it is important to ensure participants can take a break in areas with natural light and have the chance to do some kind of activity, whether that is wander around grounds or just stretch.
When Marriott launched Meetings Imagined in 2014, one of the ingredients was daylight. “We are dedicated to delivering engaging experiences that promote productivity and collaboration,” says Marriott events director Christiane von Stockert. “Adaptable, transformative spaces with natural light and appealing views combine with flexible seating, tables and technology to enable meeting planners to design their ideal meeting set-up.”
A HEALTHY MIX
Serious consideration and planning should also go into the format of the event. Speakers should be compelling, well briefed and relevant; and variety is essential, with winning over the audience at the top of the agenda.
“Panel sessions are becoming popular, as they allow audiences to hear from several speakers and potentially debate hard hitting topics,” says Event Travel Management senior manager Victoria Deprez. “These sessions often take the form of a popular television programme, which adds the fun and allows the audience to warm to the subject matter.” And, given millennials’ well documented short attention span, do not make sessions too long.
Choosing a speaker is central to success and not easy. Their content has to appeal to all parties and inspire them to do what is required or feel a certain way. “People want to hear stories,” says Zibrant’s Sharpe. She recommends captain of the GB wheelchair rugby team at the 2012 Summer Paralympics, Steve Brown, who broke his neck aged 23 and was paralysed from the chest down. “He tells his story and brings to life hope, motivation and inspiration,” she says. Delegates respond better to people who speak from the heart than to a presentation.
A more unlikely candidate is chief economist of Standard Chartered Bank, Marios Maratheftis, who makes economics entertaining – speaker and genius, clearly. For further speakers with a story to tell, visit TED (ted.com) for ideas – its website is a kaleidoscope of short addresses that are funny, informative, fascinating and more.
Engaging an audience should start before the event, even if it is a small gathering. For example, ask individuals to prepare something for the meeting or bring ideas for an item on the agenda. “When put on the spot, people tend not to say anything and then you are talking at them for an hour,” says Sharpe. And consider the demographics of the audience – age, position in their company, the male/female balance and so on.
Also, the message should live on way beyond the event. For example, says managing director of agency Speakers Corner, Nick Gold: “Motivational speaker Nigel Risner makes a point of incentivising delegates to complete tasks days, weeks and even months later.”
Merely ensuring the wellbeing of delegates is no longer enough – it should be at the top of the agenda. First, because that physical and psychological health of participants is part of duty-of-care; and second, if those attending come away inspired, informed and on good form, they will perform better. Job done.
CASE STUDY Taking the temperature
THE ROYAL COLLEGE OF NURSING (RCN) congress is arranged by the college’s event organiser, Rebecca Hoole, who includes a health and wellbeing programme. This year the congress took place at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) in Glasgow and some 4,000 delegates attended over the four-day event. “The SECC complemented my programme with ideas of their own, so there was a lot more going on,” says Hoole.
This included yoga before the first session of the day; a pedometer challenge that had delegates tweeting the number of steps they had done each day, with vouchers as prizes; and guests being given a voucher code for an app, so that they could use Glasgow’s rental Nextbikes for free: “Most delegates were staying in the city centre, 30 minutes from the SECC, so that was a good option,” she says.
In addition, some morning sessions included breathing techniques to aid relaxation and meditation classes, and on two of the four days, Hoole organised a Health Hub providing shiatsu and Bowden therapy massages. Also, visitors could have their blood pressure and body/mass index (BMI) measured, and talk to personal coaches and nutritionists.
Further wellbeing issues were addressed with sessions on topics such as managing emotions and mindfulness. “Everyone who engaged with the programme is really positive about it, and said they needed to eat more healthily and make time for exercise,” Hoole says. “They are passionate about making change.”
The SECC became the world’s first accredited Healthy Venue under the World Obesity Federation’s criteria. This initiative seeks to stimulate and support practical actions that will help people achieve and maintain a healthy weight, and reverse the global obesity crisis. It focuses on steps venues can take to promote healthy eating and more activity among delegates. Yoga sessions, a step challenge, lunchtime football and promoting use of Nextbikes are all part of the SECC’s award-winning strategy.