When Jeanne Sleeper, executive director of the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges (NCBJ), recently hosted an annual meeting of the NCBJ in San Antonio, she wanted to ensure that her attendees stayed at the Henry B. González Convention Center instead of heading back to their hotel rooms during breaks in the schedule. So she put everything guests would need throughout the day close at hand.
Between morning educational sessions, Sleeper offered a wide variety of cold beverages, including flavored waters, frappuccinos and energy drinks. Attendees could also enjoy healthconscious snacks like fruit and string cheese, with options for all attendees regardless of dietary restrictions. In the networking time between breakfast and the first scheduled session, attendees were treated to live mariachi music on an outdoor patio along the Riverwalk at the entrance to the convention center.
To discourage guests from leaving the space to check their emails, Sleeper created an attendee lounge and provided Wi-Fi in case attendees had trouble accessing cell service. She also built in networking opportunities throughout the morning so guests wouldn’t need to leave the space to speak with each other one-on-one.
“We gave them what they needed, so they didn’t need to go anywhere else,” Sleeper says.
Keeping attendees engaged during meeting breaks doesn’t just keep energy levels high and help participants focus on the agenda. Offering meeting breaks to fit guests’ needs can also combat one of the biggest obstacles for planners: keeping sessions running on schedule, says Beverly Anderson, director of events at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas. “Everyone is so connected with checking their email and calling back into the office that it becomes a distraction and prolongs [attendees] from coming back into meetings on time,” Anderson says.
In response, venues and convention centers have come up with creative solutions for meeting breaks, providing convenient dining, entertainment and wellness options to keep attendees from slinking away
PUPPIES, ICE CREAM & VOLUNTEERING
The cutest way to plan an engaging meeting break may be Hilton’s Puppies & Ice Cream Meeting Breakout, which facilitates a visit from animals up for adoption at a local animal shelter. The Puppies & Ice Cream Breakout is one of a suite of unique meeting break options at Hilton Anatole through Hilton’s Meet with Purpose programming, which offers a variety of activities focused on health, wellness and/or waste reduction.
Playing with puppies provides a unique opportunity for attendees to network with one another, says Anderson. The activity also helps reduce stress and elevate the spirits of guests. The Puppies & Ice Cream Meeting Breakout can last from 30 minutes to an hour depending on the size of the group.
Hilton can also facilitate community service activities with local nonprofits. For example, attendees can create bouquets for local charities from gently used flowers through the turnkey Repeat Roses Corporate Social Responsibility Experience. After the bouquets are put to good use by the organizations, they are collected once more for composting.
Planners can also choose Hilton’s “pick a pair, give a pair” activity, Sole Mates: Guests pick a pair of socks for themselves while gifting another pair to a local nonprofit. Attendees can even write a note to accompany the socks.
When planning community service activities, Anderson recommends facilitating interaction between attendees and the organization they’re benefiting. For instance, when a planner organized a school supply drive for a local youth organization, Anderson invited the children to perform a musical act during a meeting break.
“When attendees can engage with the organization they’re giving back to, it really resonates with the attendees,” Anderson says. “The engagement with the attendees is more impactful than anything.”
ENTERTAINMENT DISTRICT OFFERINGS
Avenida Houston and the George R. Brown Convention Center were designed to keep conventioneers within the convention campus with convenient dining and entertainment options close to their meetings and events. Avenida Houston is the entertainment district surrounding the convention center. It showcases the diversity of Houston while fitting seamlessly into a packed convention schedule, says Todd Holloman, director of convention services for the George R. Brown Convention Center at Avenida Houston.
“Normally, visitors have very limited opportunities to enjoy the city. Avenida Houston showcases the city’s culinary scene and provides light entertainment, which marries together quite well,” Holloman says.
Regular events like Avenida’s lunchtime concert series allow attendees to grab lunch from more than 20 restaurants located within walking distance, enjoy some outdoor entertainment and quickly head back for their next session. Bands perform on the front Plaza and Wharf of the convention center during the week as well as in the evening at The Rustic.
Delegates looking to take a stroll or enjoy the great outdoors can explore Discovery Green, a 12-acre downtown park, which includes art displays along the plaza for guests to admire. Attendees can also enjoy kayaking and motorized boats in Discovery Green’s basin and take part in hatha yoga or parkour.
All of the programming at Avenida Houston is free. While some programming is organic, events are often tailored for a specific group’s needs and schedule, says Holloman.
“Our programming should complement what’s going on in the convention center as a whole,” he says.
If a group has programmed lunchtime sessions, Avenida Houston may program a happy hour event instead. Holloman and his team also take into account the group’s demographics and interests to select entertainment so the tunes connect with the group as well.
In addition to providing easy access to local cuisine, Houston-inspired food and beverage provided by Levy Catering can work with local destination management experts to create pop-up experiential food shops from local vendors, providing unique experiences and photo opportunities for attendees.
Proper nutrition is one of the most overlooked ways to keep attendees focused, says Tiffany Rea, meetings and events director for La Cantera Resort & Spa. When planning a meeting break menu, Rea takes into account each dish’s position on the glycemic index. This ensures attendees do not experience a caffeine high followed by a sugar crash in meetings.
The resort also balances attendees’ need to catch up on work with dedicating time to center their energy on the programming to come. This is done through 15-minute breathing breaks or a 20-minute tai chi class. Both aim to re-center attendees’ energy and focus on the content ahead. “Attendees are still given the time they need to check in and check emails, but they are then brought back to the room and given time to recommit to learning, networking and developing their minds,” Rea says.
Holly Swanzy, CMP, CIS, senior program manager for Irving-based Brightspot Incentives & Events, Inc., also recommends incorporating healthy food options that are mobile.
“Oftentimes on a break, attendees are transitioning to the next session or enjoying networking with their colleagues, so they love the mobility of being able to walk around with these items instead of having to eat them at a table,” Swanzy says.
Healthy, mobile options include cups made of oatmeal filled with yogurt and strawberries and small cups of fresh cubed fruit with nuts. Swanzy also recommends sliced apple or whole bananas with a cup of peanut butter or salad shooters with spinach, strawberries and feta.
And at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, the Yogurt & Yoga Meeting Breakout combines a yoga class with a yogurt parfait bar. The hotel will also organize low-impact, physical activities that can be done by attendees in yoga pants or a full suit. This includes a midmorning stretch, during which attendees are paired up for partner yoga stretches.
The warrior pose in a suit and tie? We’d be sure to stick around for that.