You may have noticed that wellbeing and mental health are hot topics at the moment (if you haven’t then where have you been?). Everyone is talking about it (and a good thing too) however, planning how to fit wellbeing as an agenda item at your event can be a painstaking task. Where does it fit? What topics are people interested in? Who do they want to hear from? How do you appeal to the interests and needs of all of your attendees?
The answer is simple, you can’t, so the easiest option when planning events is to view wellbeing not just as part of your event agenda but holistically from a total event experience, with an aim of creating a culture of wellbeing around your events that will have attendees returning again and again, and feeling better for it too.
So how do you go about that realistically? Let me try and break it down for you with a few key things for consideration.
When I organised the Annual Exchange in Birmingham in 2018, the event had a holistic wellbeing culture built around it, and this involved everything from the communications to the menu planning, the timings and the content streams to the networking elements and it really was quite simple to put in place.
- Food and Beverage planning – You may have heard the phrase ‘brain food’ before? Well it really is important at an event, especially when you are expecting your attendees to engage and absorb the information being given to them, which after all is the real purpose of any event.
Ensuring your menu is packed and balanced with proteins and carbohydrates, and avoids refined sugars where possible, helps to support the blood sugar levels of your attendees and ensure they have the fuel they need to get through the day.
One other consideration is having food and drink available on tap throughout the event. Not everyone can survive on 3 simple fuel breaks, let alone be expected to process a lot of information and data, and the traditional morning break, lunch and afternoon break format is becoming a little old school. It is also healthier for some people to eat little and often, or graze. Continuous tea and water stations, with fresh fruits and healthy snacks is an easy option that can be incorporated into any event.
- Sessions length and times – The brain can be attributed to being like a processor in a computer, a bit like the intel chip that you’ll find in all devices, it takes raw data and then turns it into thoughts, memories or cognitions.
However, like anything when we speak about wellbeing it has it’s limitations, and as meeting and event designers we should be aware of the boundaries in order to create meaningful event experiences.
One of the brains most vital functions is memory, and memory is crucial for learning. The 3 types of memory we need to be aware of are; Sensory, Short Term and Long Term.
- Sensory Memory – when we trigger the senses with stimulus, our brains briefly store the information. The brain then has the option to process it through the memory bank or simply forget about it. Sensory memory is triggered by visuals, background music, and smells.
- Short Term Memory – Also referred to as working memory, it temporarily stores information triggered by stimuli. Short term memory can normally only hold about 7 items at a time, and has a time limit of around 10 seconds to 1 minute.
- Long Term Memory – After passing through short term memory relevant information is passed to long term storage. At this stage the brain is less likely to forget important information, but this can diminish over time if knowledge is not refreshed.
In a nutshell our brains simply cannot process and remember every single detail, if we could we would simply not be able to function, breathe even, as our brains would be too busy, which is why you need to get your attendees brains to take notice. Plan content that is ‘attention-worthy’ with attention grabbing imagery, facts, quotes and charts – all very powerful stimuli.
Reinforce concepts, ‘repeat, repeat, repeat’, as memory needs reminders from time to time.
Lastly use active recall, leave time at the end of the session to reflect on what the attendees are holding in their working memory, technology is a great tool to help you do this.
Remember to only put emphasis on the important details to avoid cognitive overload and exhausting your attendees.
- Simple networking – If there is one thing that can fill someone with fear and angst it’s the thought of attending an event, particularly if alone, to mix with a group of complete strangers.
Think about how you can make this really easy for people, and effective remove the anxiety allowing your attendees to have a relaxing, and memorable, event experience.
One way is with energisers and ice breakers, you can either go big, like I did at the Annual Exchange with a Drum Café session at the very beginning of the event, or you can do simple ice breakers at the start of each session, and also consider a wind down at the end so that attendees leave calm and ready to engage in the next.
Another thing to consider is allowing your attendees the flexibility to move between sessions. At the Annual Exchange we used a rule called ‘the law of two feet’, where attendees were advised if they were not contributing or gaining value from a session they had the freedom to move to another session were they could, no questions asked or judgement passed.
So all in all when planning your next event don’t just make wellbeing a part of it, make it the epicentre of everything you do and everything the attendee will experience, it will pay dividends to you the organiser, and your attendees will be thankful and probably a lot happier and healthier for it too.
About the Author
Helen Moon, is a CIM qualified events and marketing professional with an eclectic career spanning 20+ years within event production, venue operations, proactive sales, and digital marketing and communications. A busy professional Helen is Marketing & Communications Manager at Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust, Managing Director and Founder at EWL Club UK, and Managing Director and Co-Founder at EventWell and Event Wellbeing Week, held annually in September. Helen is a wellbeing and mental health champion, influencer, speaker, reader, runner, flutist, wife and mummy.