How to Take your Meeting from Mind-LESS to Mind-FUL
There is a lot of talk about mindfulness and intention setting right now in the events industry, and this concept is usually translated into early morning yoga, meditation rooms, or wellness breaks. This is a very literal interpretation, and while it does promote a healthier lifestyle during a jam packed program, there are lots of ways a meeting can be designed with the participant in mind to create a more focused and stream-lined (mindful) experience.
The Curse of Mindless Attendees
The Curse of Mindless Attendees
Event professionals have gotten very good at creating meetings that are well-oiled logistical machines. We have gotten SO good in fact, that there’s a mindless aspect to the experience of a traditional conference. Pick up your badge, follow the signs, listen to the talking heads, take a break for lunch (and listen to more talking heads), go to a reception, watch some entertainment, go to bed, rinse and repeat.
Interestingly, the trend towards personalization has actually forced us (planners and participants) to be more mindful overall – and this is where the value lies, because what we as event professionals need at our meetings is mindful participants, not mindless attendees.
I have seen it so many times across so many programs: mindfulness is translated into wellness, and as an afterthought a 6:00am yoga session is added to an already overly full schedule. As if our participants aren’t mentally exhausted enough from absorbing new information and emotionally exhausted enough from navigating new social interactions, now they are also physically exhausted because they have to lose an hour of sleep or more to get in some physical activity. To make matters worse, the one major break they get to enjoy a meal and relax (that gluten-free lunch) is sabotaged by a motivational speaker that demands all of their attention.
What if we just did less? What if we stopped and really looked at the content in our programs and decided what the most important things our participants need are? Yoga is great, I want to do yoga at a conference! But I also want to have enough time to sleep and talk to my spouse and catch up on work emails and breathe for a minute without being rushed to the next thing. We learn better when we pace ourselves. So let’s be mindful that we are humans and we will get more from our programs if we just did less.
Forget Attendees; Mold Participants
I believe that we need to completely do away with the term ‘attendees’ because it implies a passive audience. It puts the onus on the speakers, presenters, executive team and event professionals to make sure the people at the meeting understand the purpose for being there and get what they need out of the content being delivered to them.
What we as event professionals need to create are rooms full of ‘participants’; active, interactive, and inquisitive sessions so that people can be directly involved in achieving the objective for the conference. This is achieved by understanding why they are at that specific meeting and by being guided along their specific journey to make sure they make the most out of the experience presented to them.
Fire your MC and Hire a Learning Coach
The best way to help move from a passive to active (and more mindful) approach, is to set intentions and create a through line for your entire program that reinforces these objectives throughout. Innovative experiments in meeting design have shown us that tossing your participants to the wind by removing speakers and relying on discovery based learning alone (think big open floors where people can choose whatever they want to learn and whatever they want to do at any given time) isn’t the answer. You don’t have to be radical in your approach to the shift from passive to active; too much autonomy can be just as exhausting as none at all.
One easy way to do this is to hire a Learning Coach: a combination of an expert facilitator and MC who in an ideal world also has a background in education and professional speaking. This person will not just give housekeeping notes, introduce speakers, and give out awards – he/she should (like your participants) have an active role in the program. Your coach should help you train your speakers to be more engaging, curate and facilitate your content, and lead your participants in thought-provoking and knowledge-sharing discussions that reiterate your most important objectives for the conference.
Think of Mindfulness AS Meditation
Mindfulness is often incorporated by adding a meditation component to a meeting; but what if you thought of mindfulness as an act of meditation itself? Being mindful just means being aware and informed, and every participant should understand the reason for the meeting before it even begins. Situate your participants in the present.
They have often travelled long distances, are separated from their families, and have work they will need to make up later because of this meeting. The meeting needs to be worth the time (and the money) spent. Simply reminding everyone of this reason is a huge step towards mindfulness and intention-setting and will result in a major boost in ROI for organizers.
Over and above this be mindful of the experience of the attendee during your design process. We are often so pre-occupied with fitting every single component in as much as we can that we aren’t thinking about what it’s actually going to be like for that person to have to experience a very long and very intense day (or series of days). Balancing out time and being realistic about expectations of your participants is the very first step towards achieving your objectives.
The events industry is rapidly changing, and with the shift to a more personalized experience also comes the opportunity for a distinctly mindful approach to meeting design. Focus on what is important to your participants instead of overloading programs, and remember, we are all human. Our needs and wants outweigh the strict parameters meetings sometimes place on us, and we need some guidance to get the most out of our journey and keep our mind on what is important.