Meeting attendees seek opportunities to incorporate health and wellness into all aspects of their lives, including at work and in professional meetings.
Traditionally, professional meetings take place in windowless hotel ballrooms or conference center boxes, brightly lit by fluorescents while attendees sit motionless in front of PowerPoints and podiums, fueled by coffee, cookies and croissants.
Those days are over. Today’s meeting attendees seek to incorporate health and wellness into every part of their daily lives, even when traveling for meetings. Meeting planners eager to entice and engage attendees will have to think about wellness in every part of the meeting, from the food, to the physical fitness offerings, to the lighting and visual design, even to what attendees take home with them, explains Susie Frazier, an artist at 78th Street Studios in Cleveland, Ohio and author of Designing for Wellness.
“There’s increasing evidence that connecting to nature within our gathering spaces can reduce stress and improves our emotional well-being,” she says.
Meeting attendees, more and more, want a “larger variety of healthy and green food choices for breakfast, lunch, dinner and breaks,” says a report from Svenska Möten, the leading Swedish meeting planning organization. The IACC, an association of meeting venues and suppliers, reports that providing fare that meets the needs of specialty diets—think ketogenic, plant based, or low sugar—will not only be a requirement, but a routine expectation from attendees. Yoga, tai-chi and other mindfulness-based practices are increasingly common along with bringing in greenery and natural light to make meeting spaces feel more like the outdoors.
Frazier recommends the creation of “Zen Rooms” in a traditional meeting facility—areas with lower lighting, dampened sound, no media devices, and lit candles to give attendees a place to decompress. Using natural forms and patterns in invitations, wayfinding markers or specialty gifts can also add elements of calm.
“These kinds of intentional, positive designs can have a strong impact on attendees,” Frazier says. “People realize what they don’t enjoy about typical meeting experiences but can’t really explain until they experience something different.”
Meeting planners should also strongly consider nontraditional venues for sessions and events to get attendees outdoors—think parks or nooks people typically use for wedding photos or receptions. Consider participating in immersive learning and dining experiences in places such as Spice Acres, a 13-acre sustainable farm in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park outside Cleveland.
There, attendees are treated to food they can pick fresh from the fields and information on ingredient sourcing, sustainable agriculture and local seasonal foods.
At 78th Street Studios, more than 65 artists and makers operate often leading private tours and custom, immersive art experiences. Frazier led executives and their families from the NRP Group, a large housing developer, on a salvage tour of industrial Cleveland gathering castle nuts, toggle bolts and the like to create their own artwork. “You’re not going to find an experience like that in a hotel,” she says.
Ultimately, attendees are seeking empowerment and engagement in every part of their lives, including work, she says. Wellness as a central theme of a meeting can provide both. “People appreciate the thoughtful extra touch.”