Meeting fatigue is common among attendees who sit too long and too often, especially during lengthy and tightly scheduled programs. Lethargic attendees are inattentive and less able to retain information. Providing endless supplies of coffee during meetings has been a customary solution. However, drained attendees need more than short-lived caffeine and sugar boosts.
They need to get moving. Physical activities and exercise, even in moderation for short periods, can increase oxygen and blood flow, jump-start attentiveness, enhance attendee experiences and help achieve meeting goals.
More attendees are requesting physical activities ranging from stretching and yoga breaks to exercise classes and fitness-related teambuilding activities. The demand for new and unique physical activities is rising, especially among millennials, who make up about half the workforce. In addition, older attendees, who have experienced years of traditional meeting activities, also want new options.
As a result, including a wider variety of physical activities has become a priority for planners. According to the Incentive Research Foundation’s Wellness in Meetings and Incentive Travel Study, 87 percent of planners believe wellness is a key focus when planning events. Also, more than 90 percent of corporate planners feel enthusiastic about wellness.
Planners who are enthusiastic about the benefits of physical activities during or before meetings include Joanne Orlando, CMP, account manager of Schaumburg, Illinois-based, Total Event Resources, who says, “Physical activities will get attendees energized with increase blood flow between seated meetings. Attendees’ focus will be increased after a physical activity resulting in higher information retention. They will be more willing and open to interact and network as physical activities are a good icebreaker and energizer.”
Judy Meyers, owner of HPM Associates Inc., a Whittier, North Carolina-based meetings and incentive travel firm, agrees, especially when it comes to teambuilding.
“Attendees’ focus will be increased after a physical activity resulting in higher information retention.” — Joanne Orlando, CMP
“Generally, the goals of a corporate meeting or incentive program are improving communication, increasing motivation, identifying leadership and encouraging bonding,” she says. “A well-planned, exciting and fun group physical teambuilding activity should help achieve all these goals.
“When people work together in a contained indoor and mostly sedentary setting, the scope of their interactions is limited,” Meyers says. “Physical activities inside or outside the location will let them see and experience themselves and each other in a new and different way. They will share the rewards that are inherent in these types of activities.”
Jay Klein, CMP, COO, of Coral Gables, Florida-based A-plus Meetings and Incentives, adds that physical activities can improve attendees’ attitudes toward their employers.
“The physical activities show attendees that the employer cares about their well-being enough to coordinate these programs,” says Klein. “Beyond that, with the sedentary nature of most meetings combined with the volume of food and drink, means that attendees who can exercise during the program will be more alert and ready to absorb the content being presented. They’ll also have more energy for evening networking activities.”
Due to the many benefits of physical activities, Klein encourages corporations to include them during meetings and events. “Almost every program we plan these days includes some sort of physical activity,” says Klein. “We’ll usually have 10 to 20 participants for a program of 500 people, with many more utilizing the fitness center.”
While some attendees prefer moderate activities during or between onsite meetings, others want vigorous workouts.
For Klein, “These programs typically involve early morning fitness programs. We try to vary it daily, but usually it will include yoga, kickboxing or boot camp workouts. Kickboxing and boot camp are definitely the most popular, along with early morning hikes or biking (depending on the location of the program).
“The feedback is universally positive, both from the physical fitness aspect and for the teambuilding/networking,” says Klein.
Cindy Lo, DMCP, president of Red Velvet Events, finds that many corporate meetings want 1K runs.
“These are typically for multiday conferences for corporate clients where they want to offer a physical activity before they start their standard meeting agenda,” says Lo. “For the runs, we can have anywhere from 10 to 50 participants. We typically encourage our clients to pre-register, so we know the interest level.
“The runs are usually for meetings where everyone does not know each other and are attending for education or networking,” says Lo. “Overall, the runs have been enjoyable, especially in a city like Austin, where you can start your run from the hotel lobby and visit the Texas State Capitol, and see all the fun and colorful art murals we have that make us different.”
Even activities that require moderate physical exertion can improve attendee alertness, especially if they move constantly from station to station.
For example, Orlando planned outdoor physical activities at the Schaumburg Boomers Stadium, where 100 sales employees of a payroll and human capital management software solutions company convened for some friendly competition.
“The activities we planned included a scavenger hunt, inflatable games, mini-arcade games and baseball-style carnival games,” she says. “Through strong branding, fun interactive activities and downtime out of the office, attendees had a great time getting to know other employees while letting their competitive side show. The events were designed to create strong team bonding while pushing employees to meet their yearly goals.”
Planners should schedule physical activities strategically and communicate details in advance for maximum benefit on attendees and meeting goals.
According to Lo, “I have found that it’s very important to communicate early and clearly on when these activities will take place, if there’s a sign-up required, what to pack and wear and if there’s limited capacity. Sometimes, people get so busy, they miss the initial sign-up and get upset if they do. It definitely helps to have a plan B readily available if too many people show up.”
Klein believes attendees benefit best from before-breakfast workouts. “We find that the programs should be scheduled in the early morning prior to breakfast, which is when many people prefer to work out, and it doesn’t impact the agenda,” he says. “For mandatory teambuilding exercises, usually later in the afternoon works well.”
Meyers also favors morning workouts. “One of my favorites is an early morning hike, bike ride or something out in nature that awakens the body, the senses and the spirit,” she says. “A group could be divided into teams with tasks or stops to make along the route.
“The event would culminate in a healthy breakfast meeting in which they can debrief what they learned during the activity,” says Meyers. “Following the breakfast meeting, they should be energized and ready for a productive day.”
Another option for Meyers is scheduling physical activities throughout the entire meeting agenda to give attendees a choice of times.
“During the event, schedule a morning break time and an afternoon break to take a brief walk or other activity,” she says. “It is always helpful to have your last day of the program be a half-day in order to incorporate a physical activity as the last part of the overall event. This leads to additional comradery that will leave a lasting impression.”
Meyers also planned another event that included yoga sessions throughout the day so attendees could choose which time they wanted to attend.
Despite planners’ push for physical activities during meetings, some are cautious.
According to Lo, “I would say unless a company culture is all about physical activities, most companies want to play it safe and have minimal physical activities. We have to incorporate limited liability waivers for many physical activities and, depending on how large the client is, they usually try to avoid these situations per their company policy.
“However, having said all this, I am a fan of getting out of the hotel ballroom and doing something that can re-energize your attendees,” she adds. “After all, that’s why physically interactive experiences are still top of the wish list when it comes to meeting planning and gets high marks from attendees.”
Even the most cautious planners can find several activities to make meeting agendas less sedentary. The options range from short fitness breaks to thrill-seeking activities.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) can combine physical activities and teambuilding that get attendees moving while fostering meeting goals and engagement.
Klein often suggests that corporate groups include active CSR teambuilding. “It has definitely taken over the teambuilding programs we do, either with something like a build-a-bike program for Boys and Girls Clubs or helping a school with painting, clean-up or other maintenance requirements,” he says.
“For teambuilding, we recently took a group of 100 leaders from a telecommunications technology company to a local school to paint it and build planters,” says Klein. “This was exceptionally popular, especially at the end of the day when many of the young students joined our attendees to help. It was a great give-back to the host community and met the meeting objectives for networking and teambuilding.”
Meyers cites a unique example of active teambuilding. “We have planned teambuilding programs with a company called the Academy for Coaching with Horses based in Mexico City,” she says. “New perspectives are gained because, when training and working with horses, you will see things as you never have before, which facilitates deep and true change.
“This methodology takes teambuilding to an entirely new level,” adds Meyers. “This is not the typical teambuilding activity that fits into one short session of a meeting. It is an unusual format in its time requirement.”
Meyers recommends another example of active teambuilding. “Full-day experiences, such as foraging for a culinary experience for glamping (an upscale form of camping) in hill country, can be incorporated for events that are less meeting-focused and can be customized for a unique attendee experience,” she says.
A growing number of venues offers activities that get attendees moving. Here are some examples:
No-sweat activity breaks can be provided in meeting rooms by an instructor from a local fitness center or via video.
The breaks can consist of simple stretching and movements to get blood flowing. Make the breaks short and sweat-free so attendees can do the activities in their clothing and even while seated.
Other options: Distribute Fitbits to attendees and use the devices to encourage physical activities. For example, have attendees compete to walk the greatest distance during an entire event.
Maintain and distribute rankings through an event app, and award prizes to the winners. In addition, planners can email or text tips to attendees for using simple physical activities to keep themselves energized during meetings.
Set up a dedicated lounge or room where an instructor leads attendees through exercises, such as yoga, Zumba, aerobics, tai chi or spin classes. For example, last year, IMEX America set up a Be Well Lounge in a breakout room, where wellness experts led yoga classes and mediation sessions. More than 1,200 people attended the lounge, according IMEX America.
Millennials have helped increase the variety of physical teambuilding and other activities because they want more interactive, surprising and thrilling experiences. Planners cite examples such as a NASCAR ride-along, indoor skydiving, learning to fly a Cessna aircraft, rappelling, cave excursions and skydiving.
Given the demographic mix of attendees in many groups, one option is providing a choice of thrilling and more traditional physical activities. That’s what Lo did.
“On a recent company incentive trip, we offered the group a choice between something that was active and less active and about half the team chose the more active, thrill-seeking option,” says Lo.
“It was extreme tubing (think white-water rafting but on a tube),” she adds. “There were a lot of big rocks. We still tell stories about it today, and I had T-shirts made after the event to say, ‘we survived.’”
Some planners, including Klein, take a cautious approach to thrill-seeking activities. “We rarely do truly thrill-seeking activities due to liability concerns, but on incentives, we’ll frequently offer zip lining or ATV riding,” he says. “We’ve also rented out a B-17 aircraft for rides. There is a small portion of our attendee base that might like the adrenaline rush, but it’s usually not for the full group.”
Meetings that require groups to spend most of their time onsite can take advantage of the increasing number of options offered by hotels and resorts. Some examples are:
Omni La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad, California, allows Navy SEALs to lead group training sessions and competitions.
Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa in Gateway, Colorado, offers group cattle drives in which attendees help cowboys gather cattle off several hundred acres and direct them to corrals.
Fairmont Scottsdale Princess in Arizona offers aerial yoga that suspends guests from hammocks, HoopFiT resistance training on LED-lighted hula hoops and core-strengthening workouts.
Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate offers competitive Laser Skeet Shooting.
Planners looking to try a new physical activity should remember that it will not be a hit just because attendees haven’t done it before. That’s why it’s crucial to know the group.
Planners suggest asking the following questions to determine attendees’ experiences with past physical activities.
More planners are doing what they can to include physical activities in programs to fight meeting fatigue and energize attendees.
Even minimal exercise or movement for short periods can stimulate attendee listening, learning and creativity. There are many simple and inexpensive options for including physical activities in meetings and many benefits to doing so. C&IT