In my work, I’m constantly being informed that the biggest challenge employees face is feeling like there’s not enough time to get it all done. When we curate meetings and events, our intent is to assist attendees by providing them with important information and connection. However, for most employees, being in meetings causes their plate to “runneth over” even more, as they strain to keep up with their day job.
As meeting planners, you have the unique opportunity to facilitate agendas in a way that minimizes stress and eases participants into a new way of doing business. You have the ability, even if it’s just in very small nudges, to encourage energy management as a critical success factor in the attendee’s ability to actually absorb and appreciate the opportunities that meetings provide.
Here are a few of the ways you can support mindful meetings in subtle and perhaps more significant and positively disruptive ways:
- Beware of information overload. When planning agendas, use caution when trying to pack just one more content-heavy session into an already busy day. Try to oscillate sessions that are more lecture or information-rich with those that allow for reflection or practical application. And please, please get people up and moving around as much as possible to recharge.
- Minimize multitasking. You’ve seen that look before. Glossed over gazes staring at screens as if they’re typing “notes” when they’re really trying to stay awake. Web surfing anything and everything that might grab their attention, other than the business-relevant information right in front of them. Although it may be painful at first, creating a tech-free tabletop environment can help participants more fully engage with the speakers and content you’re providing them, while minimizing the mental gymnastics of trying to be too many places at once.
- Provide healthy fuel. I’m not suggesting you completely remove the ice-cream bars, donuts, and sugary drinks all at once, considering that could cause some sugar shock to those who aren’t calling the shots. But you certainly can have some healthier options close by for those who want healthier nutrition options. Make it interesting by putting together an “Energy Optimizer” table with some fun facts about how food can boost brainpower, and you might be surprised how many people opt for healthier treats.
- Use energizing cues. Whether it’s music that lifts your mood in the morning or helps you relax and unwind at the end of the day, sound can have a powerful impact on the brain’s ability to focus. And that’s just one of your senses. It turns out that sight (color, lighting, imagery), sound (music, sounds of nature), scent (aromatherapy), and touch (playdough or squeeze toys at tables, river rocks, comfortable chairs) can all cue the brain to be more alert and receptive to information. Be creative with this one and see if you can create an engaging theme with sensory cues that nudge neurons into a more positive state. With one client, we created an entire Beach Brain scene, including the sound of ocean waves crashing, aromatherapy that mimicked the negative ions in the ocean air, lighting that had a sunset tint to it, and even kinetic sand that people could put their fingers or toes in for the full effect. While it may sound extreme, these sensory cues supported a much more creative, engaging, and innovative environment to have fun and get stuff done.
- Prioritize sleep. Now, I know you want to pack in as much information and connection time as possible, but one of the most horrific things I see related to meetings and conferences is the disregard for quality and quantity of sleep. If we want people to absorb anything we’re teaching them, it’s critical that their brains and bodies are rested. Besides, what’s the point of all of this effort if we send them back into the office more fatigued than they were before? You can’t force anyone to go to bed early, but as a planner you can prioritize ending times that are realistic and social activities that allow for slowing down, relaxing, and ending early enough for a good night’s sleep.
When I present for meetings and conferences, I always offer a free consultation to provide recommended snacks, meals, physical activity, recharge breaks, and other agenda planning support. After all, what good is the information we provide if no one can pay attention?
Dr. Heidi Hanna is a New York Times best-selling author, CEO and founder of Synergy, a consulting company providing brain-based health and performance programs to organizations, and the Executive Director for the American Institute of Stress. As a global speaker, she has been featured at Fortune magazine’s Most Successful Women in Business Summit, the ESPN Women in Leadership Summit, and the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT).