How many times have you gone to a conference and found yourself in a whirlwind of learning, networking, socializing, and just plain stimulation, crashing exhausted into your bed each night and leaving the conference feeling unsure of what you really took from it? If you think this might be a common event experience, that’s because it is. That is why growing trend with increasingly apparent importance is to create mindful experience in event planning.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is defined as the mental state achieved when one is fully aware of the present moment, while acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and body sensations. It’s not a learned behavior – we’re all capable of being mindful – it’s just a matter of providing an environment that’s conducive to experience mindfulness. There are several ways you can infuse mindfulness into your next event to encourage your attendees to be present, while leaving them feeling recharged and energized by their experience, versus exhausted and overwhelmed.
But why does it matter?
Many event planners, to no fault of their own, will qualify a good event experience as one that provides the maximum amount of stimuli possible. Whether that’s cramming in as many speakers as possible or hiring an A/V company that makes every 10 minute break feel like a disco, this type of stimuli actually harms event experience more than it helps it.
In reality, what attendees are craving – whether they know it or not – is an experience that fosters interaction, access to better networking, unique knowledge sessions that encourage conversation, and more. Mindfulness is being fully aware and present, and experiences that allow attendees to deep-dive into each session they’re a part of, find sparks of innovation, and connect with the presenter in a face-to-face setting (regardless of the time it takes) are more beneficial than speed-dating high-level topics all day.
Providing a conference setting and schedule that encourages attendees to interact with speakers, take time for themselves and take their eyes off the clock will allow them to get much more out of the conference. They’ll retain more information and speak positively about their time spent. Which is just a long way of saying, “See you next year!”
So how can we implement it?
While it may seem like an ambiguous and somewhat daunting undertaking, in reality planning an event that fosters mindfulness is just a matter of tweaking what you’re already doing. As you’re planning your next even, keep these items in mind.
Allow time for reflection: Instead of forcing attendees to choose between cocktail hour and going back to their hotel rooms to take a power nap, build in opportunities for people to reflect on their day. This means not only scheduling blocks of time for self reflection, but creating spaces that invite attendees to sit down and relax, review their notes, or perhaps pick up a more in-depth conversation with a speaker or fellow attendee. Plan to incorporate spaces with comfortable, inviting seating, low noise volume, good, natural lighting, and easy access.
Focus on ambiance: The flashing lights, booming sound system, and flashy graphics are great and can be fun, but they can also be a distraction to what is actually the focus at the moment. Introduce new speakers, sessions, and topics a little slower, focusing on the key points of why this certain item is important and what the attendee can expect to gain from this information. Another side to ambiance is the infusion of nature into the event. People feel more at peace when they’re in an environment that is, inherently, peaceful. If possible, hold a morning session outdoors or in a room that’s well-lit with natural lighting to promote peace and calmness, or encourage a stroll outdoors during an afternoon break to recenter energy for the rest of the day’s work.
Plan activities: Plan types of activities that attendees can choose to participate in to encourage mindfulness. Water, for example, is said to be purifying and transformative. If possible, host a breakout session on a waterway via stand up paddle board or even just on the riverbanks. Or pick a venue that includes fountains or other water features, and use those areas for attendees to relax and unwind. Alternatively, plan breaks throughout the day where attendees have the option to do short yoga classes, meditation breathing sessions, or other centering activities.
Look at your schedule: Is it full to the brim, leaving 5 minute breaks between 25 minute breakouts from 8am until 5pm? That sounds exhausting, especially to a conference attendee who just had to travel several hours (even days) to be at your conference and is battling little sleep and stimulation overload! Make sure to be intentional with every moment of your days, leaving plenty of time for each presenter to fully cover their topics – encouraging questions and engagement in sessions as much as possible. Leave plenty of room for bathroom breaks, coffee and snack runs, and even some networking for your attendees and sponsors. Allow attendees time to decompress after they’ve just crammed their mind full of new information. They’ll retain more as a result!