The Strategic Benefits of Wellness at Meetings
In our hyper-connected world where business professionals are always logged on, meeting attendees want more opportunities to unplug, recharge, and be active while attending conferences. Information overload from attending sessions all day can be overwhelming without a break to rejuvenate. This is why several recent surveys, including the American Express’ 2018 Meetings Forecast, indicate that health and wellness is an emerging conference trend to watch in 2018.

To accommodate this trend, a growing number of associations are incorporating wellness activities into their meetings and events. If wellness strategies are implemented thoughtfully and correctly, said Carol McGury, Executive Vice President, Event and Education Services at SmithBucklin, it can drive attendee engagement and make the conference stand out. There is a lot of competition for attendees’ attention in any given field, so events that provide great content and a holistic attendee experience with a wellness focus will differentiate themselves.

Synching with Attendees

As more people incorporate wellness into their daily lives, there’s increased demand for wellness offerings at meetings. In fact, a recent survey by IMEX Group found roughly three quarters of business travelers cited the importance of well-being during business travel, including 79.5 percent of hosted buyers, 78 percent of attendees, and 83 percent of exhibitors.

Associations can capitalize on this trend by incorporating into their events options such as group wellness activities or down time in a sponsored wellness suite. They can also offer nutrition, yoga, fitness, comfortable spaces, and other options that promote attendee health and wellness. In addition, association professionals can market and brand their events as catering to attendee wellness, McGury said. “It is another way to entice potential attendees, exhibitors, and sponsors to engage more with your brand," McGury said.

"Given a choice, most people want to attend an event where there’s rich content and a focus on a more holistic view of the participants’ well-being,” McGury said. When they come away with great ideas and connections, and feel healthy and recharged, they are more likely to be evangelists who encourage others to attend. In addition, McGury has found that, done the right way, wellness programs have boosted participation rates and resulted in higher attendee satisfaction on post-event evaluations for many associations.

Financial Wellness

Incorporating wellness activities into your event doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, as part of enhancing the overall attendee experience, experts say it can boost the return on investment of the event. Offering yoga or workout classes, meditation sessions, a fun run, a wellness suite or quiet zone for mindfulness, or a steps competition throughout the conference can provide a lot of value for relatively little investment. In fact, a vast majority of meeting planners surveyed by the Incentive Research Foundation said that many of these types of activities can be run cost-effectively. Associations may also find that in some cases, an investment in wellness activities may have more value than other programs or offerings. In addition, certain wellness activities can generate revenue through sponsorship opportunities, like, for example, a bike tour of the city or destination.

Associations can also consider wellness-focused networking, or “sweatworking,” opportunities. A sweatworking reception is a gathering that — like a networking session — is centered around socializing and making connections, but instead of standing around a bar, participants are engaged in a physical activity like a group fitness class, walking tour, run, volleyball tournament, putting contest, yoga workout, or something else. These events are becoming increasingly popular, particularly among millennials, and they offer an alternative to those who are not comfortable in traditional networking settings. “It’s about thinking differently about networking in way that will appeal to attendees' desire for activity,” said McGury.

Engagement Centers

Many associations are using wellness pavilions as exhibit floor engagement centers that help to bring more attendees into the exhibit hall. The pavilion might have a stage for a series of short educational presentations from experts about health and wellness. Some might offer massage stations, perhaps a place for attendees to check their blood pressure, or some other health-related element. Other associations offer things like bike stations that attendees can use to charge their phones through their own pedal power. In addition to the health and educational benefits, it’s a way to create buzz on the exhibit floor. It provides a place for attendees to take a break, engage with one another as well as exhibitors, while remaining on the exhibition floor. These pavilions can also create sponsorship opportunities.

The key is to create activities that a large majority of attendees can participate in, which will enhance meeting content and increase exhibit hall traffic. When people can take a healthy break to relax, or get active, they are refreshed and more focused when they return to educational sessions and other event functions.

It’s also important to consider the culture of your organization when developing a wellness program. Activities that might work for an association of nurses might not work for an association of engineers or information technology professionals. “There are so many different activities, you just need to tailor it specifically to your audience,” said McGury.

To develop a strategy around this emerging trend, boards should ask staff if and how they are incorporating wellness into association events, what the anticipated gains will be, and why it’s worth an investment. Associations can test the wellness strategy waters by trying it on a smaller meeting first to gauge its success and how it’s received before adopting it for the annual conference. “It’s a low-cost opportunity,” McGury said. “And I haven’t seen this not be successful.”
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Board Forward is published 10 times a year by SmithBucklin, the association management and services company more organizations turn to than any other. SmithBucklin has served volunteer board members for 70 years.


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