By Astrid Zeppenfeld
Who hasn’t come home from a convention completely exhausted before? The last thing I personally want to do after leaving a multi-day meeting is go home and cook a healthy dinner, maybe even get a workout in before going to bed! Just the opposite: Chances are I am too mentally exhausted and physically unfit because I have just been sitting in meetings most of the day without moving much at all. However, I have surely partaken in hors-d’oevres, happy hours, and certainly muffins and Danishes for breakfast, as well as three-course lunches and/or dinners! Upon arriving at home, I go to bed instead of the gym. And then I spend the following three days trying to work off the three new pounds on my scale from the three-day meeting. And here they say all good things come in threes?
They don’t. They come in fives.
Five Simple Ways to Encourage Healthy Habits
Well, the most effective way to avoid promoting unhealthy habits during any corporate event is to avoid serving unhealthy food. So many companies have gone to smart menus, where a salad is always the first course at lunch, often followed by a well-balanced plate of meat protein, a starch and a vegetable of sorts. So far, so good. One can certainly pass up the bread basket or the dessert. But what about breakfast?
- Avoid serving all sweet snacks at breakfast. Yes, cinnamon rolls are delicious with morning coffee. They’re a fantastic wake-up call. But they are also so high in sugar and fats that they are guaranteed to spike your attendees’ blood sugar, only to have them crash an hour later during your presentation. To keep everyone’s attention between breakfast and lunch, try something protein-based, like little egg soufflés, which will keep your audience sated a lot longer. They will be more attentive to your presentation.
- Speaking of presentation: Move your first presentation back a little — especially if you started your conference the night before and people have likely had a little to drink during their first networking event. Sleep is important to your health, and moving the super-early start of the meeting forward by just 30-60 minutes will do wonders for everyone’s alertness and overall well-being. Plus, you won’t need to buy as many donuts and Danishes to help people wake up.
- If you really want to encourage wellness at your event, you can instead organize a walking tour in the city where you are holding the conference, skipping the happy hour networking on the first day altogether. These walking tours are a great way for people to work as a team and get to know their surroundings. In addition, it gets them moving. Being active is good for everyone’s cardiovascular health. Time Magazine reported in an article on daily stress and anxiety that “physical activity directly reduces excess cortisol — also known as the “fight or flight” hormone, since its job is to make more energy available in stressful situations — by using that energy. This works to dispel cortisol that may be lingering from problems at work or at home. It also provides a host of direct benefits to many stress-related difficulties — obesity, diabetes, metabolic disorders — but also in increased brain functioning that supports self-regulation.” Certainly, as meeting and event planners, we want increased brain functioning that supports any area of life for our attendees, so this is a win-win proposition.
- Add more ways for your guests to get up and move. Have one of your breakout sessions be practicing yoga or meditation. At the Missouri Meetings & Events Groovy Galas & Funky Functions Expo last year, one of our exhibitors brought his massage chair and everyone at the Expo was so excited to go over to his booth and relax for a bit. If you are planning a meeting that could end up being stressful for your attendees, I highly suggest you look into hiring a massage service for a breakout session. It promotes wellness in attendees, and your clients will be very thankful for the opportunity to relax for a minute or two. In addition, it takes the pressure off people to make small talk, which all the introverts at your meeting will appreciate. It helps keep the small hotel gym from getting crowded in the mornings, when everyone tries to get in a quick workout.
- Finally, mental health can be achieved simply by making people feel special. This does not necessarily translate to giveaways; material things like the 15th pen or even the big-ticket TV. It can be much more subtle than that, but very effective. For example, you could create a designated space where your attendees can be engaged pre- and post-meeting; a place where people can just sit and relax, while their phones and laptops are charging and not in use. A dedicated server or concierge team can serve them specially-crafted local (healthy) bites or beverages, maybe just a warm, refreshing towelette, like you get first from flight attendants on an overseas flight. It could be like a frequent traveler club lounge, complete with a healthful fruit basket. The point is to subtly create healthy habits throughout your conference, in order to promote well-being among your attendees. When people feel mentally and physically well, they are more alert and productive, and your meeting or event is going to be even more successful.
Astrid Zeppenfeld is a contributing writer and MM&E’s editor/business development manager from St. Louis.