Companies spend billions of dollars each year on face-to-face meetings, so don’t you think these meetings should be very effective? Unfortunately, meeting participants might just be too exhausted to retain all the information you are cramming into a few days. Travel to a meeting, in itself, can be tiring; then add days full of information overload and evening events on top of it. With all that stimulation and little sleep, it’s no wonder meeting attendees return to work feeling drained, overwhelmed and unable to apply much of what they “learned.” Use this advice to keep participants alert and energized throughout your meeting.

Example agenda presented during the Purposeful Meeting Keynote Session at IMEX Frankfurt:

Morning Session: Kick-off when the brain is fresh – Interactive, problem-solving content
Cognitive Breaks & Comfort Breaks: This can include visual reminders of breathing techniques and access to fresh air
Lunch: Time to eat and network instead of listening to a speaker
Afternoon Session: Reflection time, peer-to-peer sharing and knowledge exchange including space to think and collaborate
Closing Session: Big Lights, big sound – Activate emotions to help people remember and recall what they learned

Here are three simple ways to forget the typical coffee break, detox the meeting brain, and implement best practices from the agenda above.

Give Them Time to Reflect

One of the biggest challenges for meeting owners is optimizing meeting content. With so much to say and so little time, it’s hard not to over-schedule every second of a precious face-to-face opportunity. Dynamic agendas, carefully planned, with only 15-minute breaks and 30-minute lunches, will have attendees checked out before the day even begins. Despite post-meeting surveys that beg for more leisure time, important content usually wins out. In reality, the content is NOT winning if the information is not retained or received with enthusiasm.

This is where reflection time (and technology) can really contribute to the overall success of a meeting. Information can easily be found and sent on the internet, so preparing your meeting participants before they even arrive will make your time together more valuable. Self-reflection and conversation among peers can help them move from merely absorbing information to applying critical thinking skills and forming actionable insights.

As we move on from formal education into careers, it seems as though we forget to apply best practices from our learning environments that served us so well. As meeting owners, facilitators, and planners, it is our job to reinforce learning by directing participants to reflect on their personal takeaways before the experience has escaped them. It’s important to emphasize the importance of mindfulness especially when we know new stimuli impact us every 8 seconds.

Get Them Up and Moving

According to Exercise Bytes, a wellness company that creates fitness/stretch videos and wellness lounges for conferences, trade shows, and workplaces, “tightly scheduled learning events can actually be counterproductive to learning.” Its fitness breaks are created to boost energy and recharge participants while easily fitting into any agenda. Here’s where you might think a coffee break comes in. Offering meeting participants a coffee break to get up and refuel will actually induce fatigue once the caffeine wears off. Try instead, to lead exercises that will get blood flowing and oxygen pumping to the brain. Even if it looks a little funny, everyone is doing it together so it’s a great chance to build camaraderie.

Exercise Bytes also explains that even though “some conferences include fitness activities such as group walks or yoga breaks, these activities are typically held early in the morning or at the end of the day, and attract few participants.” IRF research supports this with its Wellness in Meetings and Incentive Travel Study where respondents stated that morning activities were poorly attended. Other respondents celebrated wellness initiatives such as active team-building sessions, scavenger hunts, wellness checks, and spa treatments.

Introducing longer, more active breaks is also a great time to move the group outside for fresh air. And if the weather prohibits it, simply showing images of nature can help evoke the same response from the brain.

 Provide Brain-Friendly Food Options

Successful Meetings hosted a Twitter Chat on Brain-Friendly Meeting Design and one of the questions was “What types of foods should [meeting professionals] offer attendees for energy and mental stamina?” Many hotel chains have answered this with offerings such as MGM’s menus from Cleveland Clinic, Westin’s partnership with The Juicery and Radisson Blu’s “Brain Food” program.  Sometimes healthy options have the reputation of being expensive, but IRF’s wellness survey uncovered the top 5 budget-friend food and beverage choices to be:

  • Water and reduced-calorie drinks as the default
  • Fish, chicken, or lean meats
  • Reduced plate size
  • Healthy snacks of nuts, fruits, vegetables
  • Low sodium meal and snacks

While some respondents have had push-back on healthy food and eliminating sugary drinks, others have had success with inviting the Chef from the property to teach attendees how to make healthy meals and then actually serving the meal for lunch.

It’s time we start re-thinking our meeting breaks and tailor them to the way people learn best so they get the most out of our meetings. It’s to the benefit of both the meeting participant as well as the meeting owner.

Let’s Plan Smart Meetings