Article by Justin W. Ball, CMP — president and founder of Bespoke, an experiential event marketing company that helps organizations create engaging experiences to connect and inspire. Justin has years of experience in the event industry and sits on the National Live Events Board.
If you’re like me, you’ve attended multi-day events and conferences that went something like this.
Attendees begin arriving at the hotel in the early afternoon on the first day of the event, and soon after, begin savoring the canapé-and-drink-fueled welcome event at the conference center, followed by festive dinners, nightcaps, and networking.
By 8:30 the next morning, conference attendees are ready to go, filling breakfast plates, downing coffee, and heading to the morning’s keynote session, the show floor, to meeting rooms, to breakout sessions about industry-specific challenges, followed by happy hour in the courtyard and a full gala-style dinner complete with chafing dishes and entertainment.
By 10:30 p.m., attendees are back in their rooms, exhausted, finally getting a chance to check in with work from the day. Shortly after, those alarms start blaring again.
This formula defined the meetings and conference experience for many years. And it seemed to work fine. In reality, however, it just plucked workers from one overworked situation and deposited them on another.
But now, the old formula doesn’t cut it anymore. Nearly everyone is thinking more deeply about how and where to spend the limited amount of free time and travel budget available. This means that people are being selective about what events to attend, prioritizing their own needs and values more than ever before. Thus, an important word enters the events landscape, with some urgency: wellness.
It’s about time.
While traditional formats of meetings, conventions, and events often did yield some healthy results, they also left far too much on the table. Colleagues got together and learned things, for example, but they didn’t always experience much in the way of personal growth. Teams collaborated, but team dynamics didn’t always shift or grow in constructive ways; instead, they remained static. Attendees returned home flattened by days of scheduling and socializing, rather than enriched and effervescent with new ideas.
Cookie-cutter approaches to events offered lots in the way of organization and scheduling, but little room for individual choice. They viewed attendees as identical cogs in a vast machine, rather than free agents with diverse interests and needs.
Events should not be arranged as marathons; that just leads to exhaustion and impatience, as people grow increasingly eager for it to just be over and to return to their lives. Instead, we should think of events as more like days at a wellness retreat, complete with opportunities to learn, to collaborate, and to nurture mental, physical and spiritual health. Far fewer people will dream of the event’s end; most, in fact, will want it to continue.
To make this happen, we need more down time built into the event schedule. Every attendee should be encouraged to step off from time to time and take care of themselves: have a Zoom call with the family back home; meditate in one of several “quiet rooms” scattered across the event venue; hit the venue’s gym for a workout; skip the event’s lunch options for a vegan place down the road and some alone time.
If we do it right, attendees not only will anticipate events with more relish than in the past; they also will return home brimming with enthusiasm and new knowledge, and savoring memories of time with friends and colleagues while not returning more exhausted than when they left.
Between generational change and pandemic disruptions, pressure will remain high for those of us in the industry to craft events that not only realize corporate and industry goals, but also serve the evolving desires, needs and demands of event guests. By keeping wellness front and center as we plan events — whether that means ensuring more people feel comfortable participating, encouraging guests to take care of themselves in the middle of the afternoon, and many other things — we take a big step toward achieving event excellence during truly transformative times.
Now is the time to seize this opportunity for beneficial change. If we remain stuck in old patterns, we may never again witness a thriving, dynamic events landscape.