Meeting planners have a unique opportunity to develop programs and experiences that will not only encourage connections and growth, but also provide attendees with some well-deserved rest and relaxation (ie. downtime).
In the past, I’ve worked with groups that will plan every second of every day jam-packed with programming. I’ve also noticed that this only seems to create a burned-out vibe among attendees.
Some of the most successful and memorable events I’ve seen have included relaxed schedules where attendees have plenty of downtime to enjoy the destination, while truly allowing them to absorb the information they learned that day.
Frequent Breaks Encourage Interactions
When people are away from their everyday routines, they want the flexibility to do what matters most to help them connect. For some, that may mean the freedom to enjoy unique activities. For others, a relaxed schedule allows them to interact with key colleagues and customers.
It is important for meeting planners to keep in mind that although they may plan networking or teambuilding activities to help attendees bond, sometimes the most important type of connection is one that is formed organically and made outside of the boardrooms and ballrooms.
As we all know, there is a lot of important ground to cover during a meeting or conference, including company updates and training sessions, and this can sometimes lead to an information overload and become overwhelming. I’ve found that by allowing downtime and freedom to enjoy their destination, it doesn’t take away from the learning experience. It only makes attendees more enthusiastic to return to the program and focus on the information presented.
It’s also important to remember that attendees have busy lives outside of the meeting. I always recommend that planners allow enough time for phone calls, email checks and even wardrobe changes between events. Again, a little free time between sessions and events will also allow attendees to gather their thoughts and truly absorb what they have learned so far.
Take Advantage of Your Destination
Meeting planners spend a lot of time and energy selecting the perfect venue and destination for their function, so it would be a shame to not give attendees ample amount of time to experience the destination. One way to provide some downtime and flexibility for guests is to arrange a free afternoon with a variety of fun, optional activities for them to enjoy.
For example, with our property, we have a plethora of activities for groups ranging from rafting the Colorado River to horseback riding. We’ve seen groups take a free afternoon where attendees can take part in either 9-hole golf, archery, trapshooting, or zip-lining. This gives attendees the freedom to enjoy some time outside while personalizing their experience, and also encouraging teambuilding and networking.
Consider Attendee Feedback
I am frequently asked what I feel is the perfect work/play balance during a meeting, and there’s really no ideal amount of free time for every event. I recommend that planners start with a free afternoon and frequent breaks throughout the duration of the meeting.
Feedback is very important. At least ask your attendees if they feel they’ve had enough or too much downtime. This will provide valuable information when arranging the next meeting or conference.
Erin Cook is the director of sales and marketing at Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort & Spa near Austin, Texas. She has nearly 10 years of experience working in the hospitality and meeting industries.