By Al Rickard, CAE
Spending time traveling and attending conferences is tough on your body. It’s no different for your convention attendees – late nights, early mornings, sitting in sessions much of the day, standing and walking in the exhibit hall, less than ideal food, etc. It all takes a toll.
But there are ways to help attendees minimize these issues.
“Conference fatigue is a common problem,” says Kim Bercovitz, Ph.D., (aka Dr. Kim) president and chief exercise officer of Exercise Bytes. “Muscles tighten, posture becomes slouched and energy levels plummet as the day wears on. Attendee inactivity at a typical conference or full-day meeting puts them in a state of sluggishness. This affects the brain as much as it affects the body. The more tightly scheduled the program, the more tired attendees are, so they are less able to retain information. What is needed at your next event is an energy booster; something to fight sitting fatigue and learning fatigue, as well as enhance concentration and alertness.”
She notes that meeting planners traditionally use coffee breaks as energy boosters. “While energizing for a short time, attendees end up feeling more fatigued once the caffeine and sugar high wear off, Dr. Kim warns. “Coffee-break induced fatigue can be counterproductive to learning. Light exercise, on the other hand, increases blood flow to the muscles and pumps oxygen to the brain, keeping attendees awake and alert for extended periods of time.”
She advocates offering fitness breaks (delivered in-person or by video) during the conference day to keep attendees energized and alert.
“While initially met with intrigue and surprise, they are very well-received, particularly when they are brief, sweat-free and able to be done in business attire at participants’ seats during conference sessions,” Dr. Kim says.
Fitness breaks can be integrated easily into event agendas as energy boosters when energy levels are low (mid-morning and mid-afternoon), time fillers to fill unplanned program gaps (such as when a session starts late or ends early) and social icebreakers that build camaraderie.
These breaks are usually well-received. “A room full of people talking, laughing, smiling and stretching together, and applauding at the end of each break is a typical response,” she notes.
Dr. Kim offers these tips for adding fitness breaks to your meeting agenda:
Introduce exercising with enthusiasm — Moderators need to introduce the fitness break enthusiastically to put participants in the right frame of mind to exercise. The energy shown by the moderator will motivate attendees to stand up and participate instead of leaving the room. Moderators should be briefed in advance about how to introduce the fitness breaks to attendees.
Become a conference “coach” — Every successful program has a coach whose job it is to support, encourage and cheer people on. Conference coaches can be moderators, session chairs, conference planners, volunteers, students or attendees who have a visible presence in the main room where the fitness breaks are done or in each of the concurrent session rooms. Coaches can, if they want to, stretch and exercise with event participants and cheer them along.
Schedule breaks at the right times — The best times to schedule fitness breaks include:
- Mid-morning and mid-afternoon. This is when people become naturally sleepy. For many, energy drops after a big lunch.
- Before or after the keynote, plenaries and in large rooms. When all participants are together, they feed off the group energy.
- Before sessions. Have attendees stretch at their seats while they wait for a session to begin.
- Mid-session. A spontaneous energy booster surprises participants when their energy and alertness levels are low.
- Fitness breaks are less effective early in the morning or at the end of the conference day.
- Fitness energy boosters can be easily included as part of a refreshment break, but they are most successful in the conference meeting room. When held during refreshment breaks, your attendees are more interested in checking their smartphones, finding the restroom, grabbing a coffee or networking.
Dr. Kim adds that fitness breaks are becoming increasingly popular in conference or trade show wellness lounges and mind-body zones where participants practice mindfulness and yoga. She offers a wellness lounge at PCMA Convening Leaders, IAEE Expo Expo, and other popular meeting planner events as well as industry conferences and tradeshows (health/medical, financial, furniture).
“Meeting planners are in the business of creating memorable events,” Dr. Kim declares. “If you want to keep attendees actively engaged throughout the conference, try getting them out of their seats periodically to re-charge their bodies and minds.”
Her company, Exercise Bytes, is a multi-media wellness company that licenses video-delivered fitness breaks for meetings and conferences. Videos can be custom-branded and included as part of a turnkey conference wellness program. She can be reached email@example.com
Al Rickard, CAE, is president of Association Vision, a communications company, and serves as the ConventionPlanit.com director of communications.