By Dr. Kim Bercovitz
Think back to your last meeting or event. How often did you feel tired? Did you get fanny fatigue from sitting too much? Brain freeze from hearing a lot of information in a short period of time?
Conference fatigue is a common problem experienced by attendees who sit for a long time at meetings and conferences. Muscles tighten, posture becomes slouched and energy levels plummet as the day wears on. Attendee inactivity at a typical conference or full-day meeting puts them in a state of sluggishness. This affects the brain as much as it affects the body. The more tightly scheduled the program, the more tired attendees are — and less able to retain information. What is needed at your next event is an energy booster — something to fight sitting fatigue and learning fatigue, as well as enhance concentration and alertness.
Meeting planners traditionally use coffee breaks as energy boosters. While energizing for a short time, attendees end up feeling more fatigued once the caffeine and sugar high wear off. Coffee-break induced fatigue can be counterproductive to learning. Light exercise, on the other hand, increases blood flow to the muscles and pumps oxygen to the brain, keeping attendees awake and alert for extended periods of time.
Some conferences include fitness activities such as group walks or yoga breaks. These activities are typically held early in the morning and attract few attendees.
Fitness breaks: Quick and healthy
Fitness breaks (delivered in-person or by video) offered during the conference day are needed to combat conference fatigue. While initially met with intrigue and surprise, they are very well received, particularly when they are brief, sweat-free and able to be done in business attire at participants’ seats during conference sessions.
Fitness breaks can be integrated easily into event agendas as energy boosters when energy levels are low (mid-morning and mid-afternoon), time fillers to fill unplanned program gaps (e.g., session starts late or ends early) and social icebreakers that build camaraderie. A room full of people talking, laughing, smiling and stretching together, and applauding at the end of each break is a typical response. Participants espouse fitness breaks as a “needed break” and feel great afterwards.
Want to add fitness breaks to your agenda? Here are some tips:
Introduce exercising with enthusiasm — Moderators need to introduce the fitness break enthusiastically to put participants in the right frame of mind to exercise. The energy shown by the moderator will motivate attendees to stand up and participate instead of leaving the room. Moderators should be briefed in advance about how to introduce the fitness breaks to attendees.
Become a conference “coach” — Every successful program has a coach whose job it is to support, encourage and cheer people on. Conference coaches can be moderators, session chairs, conference planners, volunteers, students or attendees who have a visible presence in the main room where the fitness breaks are done or in each of the concurrent session rooms. Coaches can stretch and exercise with event participants and cheer them along.
Do it this way — The best times to schedule fitness breaks are as follows:
- Mid-morning and mid-afternoon. This is when people become naturally sleepy. For many, energy drops after a big lunch.
- Before or after the keynote, plenaries and in large rooms. When all participants are together, they feed off the group energy.
- Before sessions. Have attendees stretch in their seats while they wait for a session to begin.
- Mid-session. A spontaneous energy booster surprises participants when their energy and alertness levels are low.
- Fitness breaks are less effective early in the morning or at the end of the conference day. Early morning walks or yoga breaks, for example, attract few attendees.
- Fitness energy boosters can be easily included as part of a refreshment break or in a breakout room, but they are most successful in the conference meeting room. When held during refreshment breaks, your attendees are more interested in checking their smartphones, finding the restroom, grabbing a coffee or networking.
Meeting planners are in the business of creating memorable events. If you want to keep attendees actively engaged throughout the conference, try getting them out of their seats periodically to re-charge their bodies and minds.
About the author
Kim Bercovitz, Ph.D. (aka Dr. Kim) is a president and chief exercise officer of Exercise Bytes Inc., a fitness technology company that licenses video-delivered fitness breaks for meetings and conferences. Dr. Kim can be reached at [email protected], 1-855-8xbytes and www.x-bytes.com.