Activities such as a tower swing, facing page, carnival games, top, and life-size bowling, left, were a hit at an event for Riskalyze, a nancial technology company. Credit: Riskalyze
There was a time when those in the insurance and financial industries faced some sad goodbyes when they needed to leave their children or spouses for a big company meeting. Not only did it mean being away from their loved ones, but it often brought on resentment from the family stuck at home while one spouse got to visit a fun destination.
Today, more meetings and conventions are inviting the family, championing the idea that attendees bring their spouses and children with them when attending an event. The reason? Happier workers and a more peaceful family life for those involved.
Riskalyze, a financial technology company based in Auburn, CA, annually hosts its Fearless Investing Summit for more than 600 attendees from across the financial industry.
Dan Bolton, director of conferences and events for Riskalyze, says after its first year, they noticed how many attendees brought their spouses and decided to add an additional registration option for attendees.
“It was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made for the meeting and we’ve had attendees gift tickets for their partner’s birthday, get engaged at the event, and even had spouses email us asking when registration opens for the event,” he says. “Just this year, we’ve already had multiple spouses confirmed and an attendee purchased a ticket for his son so that the son could learn more about the industry.”
In fact, once the company added a spouse ticket option to the main conference, they saw the overall customer attendance increase.
“While we’ve always wanted our customers to feel welcome to bring their family to an event, this added ticket option in a way gave them permission,” Bolton says. “It’s also much easier to tell your spouse that you’ve got to go to a work event when you’re able to include them.”
Riskalyze is intentional in making the event a fun experience for both attendees and their families.
“For our internal company events, we want our employees’ kids to talk about how their mom or dad works at the coolest company in the world,” Bolton says. “For our customer-facing events, we want the spouses and families to talk about how they attended the best event. We dream big but live in reality. We look at the event elements that will add a memorable experience while meeting the internal company’s goals of creating a unifying experience.”
Mark Herbert, president and CEO of Incentive Solutions in Atlanta, GA, specializes in meeting planning for corporate clientele throughout the country, many in the financial industry. He notes the secret to organizing a family friendly meeting comes down mostly to two things: the location and the dates.
“You should consider a central location close to where your participants are located. If budget is an issue, look at one that is close enough that your participants can drive to attend,” he says. “If flying is required, consider a destination that has plenty of family friendly activities, including ones that are specifically kid-focused. Many properties also offer child care for the ‘adults’ night out.’
When considering the dates for travel, if you want to be open to children, he says you will need to plan the travel program around the school year so thinking holidays and summer breaks are good times to jet off.
“Family friendly meetings can boost attendance as attendees may be more inclined to participate if they can also spend time with their families during their downtime,” Herbert says. “This is especially important if you are marketing your meeting to outside audiences like customers who may not want to spend more time away from their families. This is a golden opportunity to mix business with some family time. Not to mention, you are now creating a loyalty to your business amongst the whole family. It’s a great way to extend brand awareness.”
Jessie States, CMP, CMM, director, MPI Academy at Meeting Professionals International, says in 2019, family friendly meetings aren’t just about the kids and spouses.
“More and more adults are caring for aging parents, and forward-thinking event professionals are ensuring that their meetings can accommodate for the needs of the young and the not-so young,” she says. “They are searching for destinations, venues and facilities that not only provide activities and adventures for children, but those that can fulfill the needs of their retired immediate family as well.”
Lorena Tomasini, owner of MALM Life and Health Insurance Agency in Cutler Bay, FL, says when planning activities for family friendly events, organizing a meeting time that works for everyone — including young children — should be considered.
When kids are involved, you need to prepare more than if it’s just a spouse or adult child.
“Coloring books and crayons will always work,” Tomasini says. “If the kids are involved in the meeting … draw diagrams to make it easy for them to understand and follow along. Use fewer numbers; more visuals.”
For example, Tomasini was at a company meeting where the children looked tired and bored.
To avoid the kids distracting their parents from the important information, she made some copies of a coloring book and told them it would be a silent competition based on who could color and be the most quiet.
“Kids like a challenge and it helped with them doing something to not distract the adults,” she says. “They both got a candy at the end for having behaved well.”
To be successful at creating family friendly meetings, Bolton agrees that the event environment has to be inviting to all ages and it’s important to develop a few activities that are strictly child-centered.
“We want to provide activities for all ages and abilities. There are multiple free resources available within the community,” he says. “Just recently, the local fire station agreed to come out to an upcoming event. They’ll be bringing a couple of their trucks for kids to explore and all it took was a phone call.”
Even those who come without their families can find fun in the family friendly atmosphere.
“For those who don’t have a family, there are still many options for them,” Bolton says. “We want to reduce as many attendance barriers as possible. We want both attendees and their family to be able to look at the agenda and feel a sense of inclusion due to thoughtful planning and activity offerings.”
Through the years, the company has brought in world-class comedians, rented a yacht, and taken over a 1,000-acre Texas ranch.
“We know that when an attendee’s spouse is having a great time, that’s one of the best compliments we can receive,” Bolton says. “When planning, I’m thinking, ‘How can I plan an experience that both my groomsmen and grandparents would want to attend?’ We also make sure to offer multiple food options for a variety of palates. We mix it up to provide savory options for adults and fun options for any children in attendance.”
Obviously, a family friendly meeting done correctly will have a specific agenda for the kids. This can include a kid’s club atmosphere during meeting times and plenty of kid-friendly activities during the evening events.
“Another nice touch is welcome and goody bags for the kids as well as the adults,” Herbert says. “Additionally, many times the best events offer premium giveaways. A fun family giveaway that everyone can enjoy for years to come is a great idea — matching sunglasses, sandals, custom-designed Nikes, etc., are all good options.”
Herbert says a good mix of events, both kid-friendly and adults-only, is a necessity for family events.
“For your more formal, adults-only events, arrange to have supervised child care in a ballroom or outdoor space full of games, movies and other activities that the kids will love,” he says. “This will allow the parents to simply drop their kids off before the event and head out to a fun adults-only event.”
Lisa Wallace, associate director, convention marketing for Visit Indy, says Indianapolis has a host of great things for families to do for companies that hold their meetings in the city.
“Indianapolis offers attendees and their families not only the world’s largest children’s museum, but more than 10 major family friendly museums, attractions and professional sports in walking distance of the Indiana Convention Center and downtown meeting hotels,” she says. “These attractions also serve as event venues, combining the needs of the event organizers, attendees and guests.”
For example, Primerica Life Insurance Group’s 2017 Biennial Convention was one such major meeting where attendees brought family along and guests took advantage of post-show activities such as visiting the Indianapolis Zoo, the Rhythm! Discovery Center and walking the Canal Walk.
Tifani Jones, corporate director of sales for Kalahari Resorts & Conventions in Wisconsin Dells, WI, says the inclusion of families changes a meeting’s entire structure and adds many additional layers to the planning process. It also means more than just lining up child care and adding chicken fingers to the menu.
“Ideally, your venue will offer plenty of onsite activities for kids and spouses. Offsite excursions can be a great option for older kids, but they generally don’t work for small children,” she says. “In addition to utilizing the onsite recreation, you’ll want to plan group activities that bring the families together. This will take some thought as toddlers and teens do not share many interests, so offer activities aimed at different age tiers. The venue’s planning staff should be well versed in generating creative entertainment ideas for your group.”
That experience has made Kalahari Resorts & Conventions in Wisconsin Dells, WI one of the most in-demand convention centers in the state.
“The appeal of mixing work and play is only increasing for meeting attendees,” says Kevin Shanley, corporate sales and revenue management for Kalahari Resorts & Conventions. “When groups select Kalahari Resorts & Conventions as their location, it’s no longer a meeting someone has to attend, it becomes an experience the whole family gets to attend.”
Bolton says when it comes to making the meeting family friendly, there are a number of things on which he focuses, but it always starts with location. He looks at multiple outside spaces specific to the attendee demographics.
“We intentionally choose cities that offer a variety of family friendly activities,” he says. “Whether it is a nearby theme park, zoo, or outdoor activity, we always review the local options and make sure to promote them to our attendees.”
For example, Orlando has many places to hold family friendly events outside of the hotel, making it a great destination. Its amusement parks create one-of-a-kind experiences for kids and adults.
Every year, Riskalyze holds picnics for both its East Coast and West Coast offices where it invites all employees and their families. This past year, it rented out a rooftop venue in downtown Atlanta and employees were greeted by some of the best views in the city. For the families, there were carnival games, prizes and miniature golf.
“Another event is our annual customer conference. While the event is geared toward our customers and industry partners, we included an optional spouse trip that was complimentary to attendees,” Bolton says. “Our event was in Texas so we booked a charter bus and drove the spouses up to the Chip and Joanna Gaines Magnolia market for the day.”
Herbert shares that one of his favorite family events took place in Orlando, and included many of the suggestions mentioned above.
“From the start, we focused on including the children, really setting the mood for a family friendly event. We included goody bags for the entire family, and had Maui Jim come out and do onsite sunglasses for the entire family and did fittings right on location,” he says. “We hosted a family fun evening one night at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror courtyard. Our final shebang was at the hotel. Kids were dropped off for a night under the stars, with child care, dinner, a dessert bar and plenty of fun movies, while the parents headed to their own version of a night under the stars, full of great food, a little dancing and live entertainment.”
All-inclusive destinations and beach destinations are important to consider, as well.
“All-inclusive destinations are great, because you don’t have to worry about consumption,” Herbert says. “There are also plenty of destinations that have pool and beachside activities for the entire family to enjoy — pools that include water slides, fountains and beach activities like snorkeling, paddle boating, surfing lessons and more.”
One of the greatest challenges is planning for a variety of age groups. There is a big difference in the idea of fun for kids 5 and younger versus those older than 10. It’s all about striking a balance for all age groups.
Events should never be planned alone and the more involved one can get coworkers in planning and generating ideas that their families would like, the better.
“Including coworkers on an event generates more excitement and interest,” Bolton says. “Some of our best ideas at these events have come from comments from peers like, ‘My kids would love if we had this.’ It seems like for every activity, I’ll say it out loud before booking so coworkers can weigh in.”
It’s also important to add a take-home element. Attendees and their families should be leaving the event with a visual reminder or a type of gift that serves a reminder about what a fun experience they had at the company party. I&FMM