Mixing it up

By Jennifer Bill

Try integrating these tips to invigorate your next meeting

Do you ever get the feeling that your meeting attendees are lost in the land of never-ending PowerPoint slides or listless product demos? Just how many people in the audience are playing with their BlackBerries or cell phones? Simply presenting information through a light projector onto a screen in a dim room will lose your message with a sea of glazed eyes and wandering attention spans. Try making your next meeting a livelier experience with themed sessions, destination events, and company logoed gifts as part of the meeting mix.

It’s important to mix activity into a learning session. Focus on a lighter approach, with shorter sessions based around interactive teambuilding events to inspire better relationships and networking.

A central unifying theme adds energy to the focus of your meeting and reinforces the idea that a company cares enough about its employees to incorporate some extra thought and funds into making the meeting experience more enjoyable. Experiences based around a theme contribute a feeling of teamwork and solidarity to a company function, and relevant thoughtful gifts featuring the company logo, can extend the camaraderie of a teambuilding session long after the projectors are turned off.

Events of all types can benefit from incorporating a theme, says Cameron Smillie, co-founder of Live at the Hippo Pool Events Inc., presenters of performing arts events, consultants and event planners.

“With a time crunch for attendees, whether it be a product launch, sales meeting, annual luncheon or dinner of a group or association, there is a desire, in my mind, to elevate these activities to the status of a social function,” says Smillie, based in Brantford, Ont.

One of Smillie’s projects for the last seven years has been to theme the annual Brampton Arts Council Mayor’s Luncheon for the Arts, in Brampton, Ont. This annual luncheon is a multipurpose event to raise the profile of the organization and announce the Arts Person of the Year. Each year the event is themed to assist in ensuring a sold-out attendance.

“Introducing a theme overcomes consumer purchase resistance which is important when the luncheon seats are in the $100 range,” says Smillie. “Over the last few years the themes have become intertwined in the rationale for people attending the luncheon. Theme titles have included The Life Aquatic, Queen of Hearts and Singin’ in the Rain. By integrating the theme and luncheon, there is a perception of higher value, and that reduces post purchase dissonance after the function is over.”

Seeking to avoid a generic setting for their events, companies are opting to incorporate different motifs to enhance the meeting space. Milena Radakovic, vice president of Nexus Exhibits, a display and tradeshow solution company from Calgary, Alta., says corporations are seeking out themes to create unique spaces for their meetings or events.  “Using a visual framework to define space is a trend, with large LCD displays, transparent touch screens and interactive tools that engage people in corporate events or meetings,” says Radakovic. “More corporations are becoming environmentally conscious, so it is imperative to use green products like recyclable materials, lighter displays, as well as FSC-certified wood products to set up an event.”

Another hot trend seen this year by Kim Emsley-Leik, events and marketing coordinator for the City of Williams Lake in B.C., is the integration of video conferencing and social media into the execution and marketing strategy of the event.

“Event organizers, or at least the savvy ones, are rapidly recognizing that the meetings are no longer restricted geographically,” says Emsley-Leik. “Whereas event organizers previously had to strategically choose an appropriate venue based on location and proximity to the highest number of delegates, it’s now mainstream to integrate video conferencing into an event, allowing for increased attendance, greater flexibility, as well as worldwide participation and collaboration.”

“Using technology in the form of video conferencing and social media closes that gap between rural and urban B.C., affording businesses that used to conduct meetings locally, the opportunity to market themselves and invite a larger audience, taking advantage of opportunities that previously hadn’t been possible simply because of distance and logistics,” says Emsley-Leik.

“The biggest challenge for event organizers in rural communities will be to continue to educate the public on the economic benefits of integrating technology into events and meetings.”

As technology continues to drive a 24/7 mindset, some companies are including a little R & R in order to increase attention span and information retention.

This trend – adding itinerary elements that are good for the body and soul – is practised at Cobble Beach Resort in Kemble, Ont., a 10-minute drive from Owen Sound, which is part and parcel of Georgian Bay’s golf course community. This charming Nantucket-styled resort hosts small- to mid-sized business meetings, seminars and conferences where attendees can enjoy the adjacent lake, a Doug Carrick designed award-winning golf course, and hiking trails that wind through the woods.

“Many meeting groups are starting off the day with a nature/exercise element to ease the mind and body before the start of the day’s business,” says Rob Weingust, director of corporate sales, Cobble Beach Resort, which can accommodate groups of up to 144 people.

Morning activities at Cobble Beach Resort include outdoor yoga and stretching by the water or a nature obstacle course on one of the hiking paths. At night, fire pits by the lighthouse offer up the quintessential Canadian bonfire with roasted marshmallows and hot chocolate.

These are great ways to start and end the day and keep fresh and focused for meetings, said Weingust, whose client list includes law firms, pharmaceutical companies, banks and investment companies, associations and meeting/incentive companies.

Accommodations include a 10-suite luxury inn and a partner property nearby with 100 rooms. Resort amenities include a spa, gourmet restaurant, health facilities, a links-style golf course, private dining, meeting and board rooms, a pool, tennis courts, hiking trails and a small beach.

Marian Kingsmill, vice president and director, DKCI Events, based in Burlington, Ont., says urban and historic centres have a multitude of new sites opening every year, and more and more resort locations are catering to corporate meetings.

“With the complexity, costs and potential of using out-of-country destinations, it makes great sense to explore our fine destination products here in Canada,” says Kingsmill. “We have some of the best destinations and sites for meetings here in Canada, and many of them remain as yet unexplored.”

Kingsmill mentions Deerhurst Resort in Hunstville, Ont., which last year played successful host to the G8 Summit – “if it’s good enough for President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, and our own Prime Minister, Stephen Harper to show off, it should be great for your delegates.”

She also highlights tucked-away resorts offering unique destination perks, such as God’s Mountain in B.C., and wine experiences in Kelowna, B.C., or Niagara, Ont., as hot ideas.

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