Bring the Great Outdoors Into Your Meetings

A new report reveals that attendees and planners have an increased interest in outdoor spaces being used at meetings. Associations and venues are jumping on that trend.

You know when you have one of those workdays where you’re so busy that it’s not until you leave that you realize you haven’t been outside since you got to the office that morning?

Those aren’t your best days, right? You might have been really productive, but it still would have been better to step away from your desk and computer for even 10 minutes, walk around the block, and get some fresh air and vitamin D.

Now think about this in the context of your annual meeting attendees. Say they get to the convention center at 8 a.m.; have a jam-packed day of education sessions, networking events, and exhibit hall exploration; and don’t get outside again until after 5 p.m.

Definitely not ideal—and definitely not what planners or attendees want, according to the International Association of Conference Centers’ newly released “Meeting Room of the Future” white paper.

Based on insights from 180 meeting buyers from around the world, the IACC report concludes that as meeting planners work to create the engaging and unique experiences their attendees are demanding, access to outdoor areas will become more important in the years to come.

“You might think that holding a meeting outside, the attendees will be distracted,” says the report. “Brain science shows that learning in an unexpected environment, like outside in nature, triggers the release of dopamine to the hippocampus, the part of the brain that creates memories.”

Convention centers are already beginning to embrace this outdoor trend. For instance, in 2014, the Lawn on D opened next to the Boston Convention and Exposition Center. The 2.7-acre event space, located in the city’s Waterfront District, is available for private events and has two separate pavilions. The space also features lawn games like bocce and cornhole. Plus, there’s Swing Time, a set of swings outfitted with solar-powered LED lights that change color when swung at varying speeds and heights.

But Boston’s not alone. Denver’s Colorado Convention Center expansion will include a 50,000-square-foot rooftop with unobstructed views of the Rocky Mountains and city skyline. In addition, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority unveiled its Diamond Lot back in January. The space includes 20 acres of outdoor exhibit space and three acres of landscaped walkways.

And associations are being more deliberate about working the outdoors into their meetings. For example, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores holds some of the Strategic Exchange Appointments that take place at its annual meeting outside. Some of the outdoor meetings are held in bungalows, others in spaces equipped with a sun umbrella, table, and chairs.

Meanwhile, in January, the Event Service Professionals Association took advantage of its venue’s new outdoor space in Austin by holding a “winter BBQ”-themed networking lunch. Then there’s the Wilderness Education Association, which will have 30- to 45-minute “field-based sessions” at its October conference in Wyoming—something that seems almost required of a group like WEA.

I’ve also heard of groups that host “walking sessions,” in which attendees go outside and get some steps in while learning.

How do you incorporate the outdoors into your meetings and events? Let us know in the comments.

A scene from The Lawn on D, near the Boston Convention and Exposition Center. (via Facebook)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!