So many factors determine how well attendees learn and perform at meetings. Some are strictly within the individual's control, such as getting enough rest and mental preparation. As the event planner, you can help maximize attendee performance on two key fronts — 1) food and beverage planning and 2) effective session scheduling.
Food (and drinks) can have a significant impact on physical and mental functioning. Many popular meal and refreshment choices can actually set back attendee performance. These choices include more than the obvious "guilty pleasure" of foodies, candy bars and sugary sodas. High-carbohydrate main dishes like pasta, starchy sides like potatoes and heavy sauces can create mental sluggishness. Even too much salt can bring on drowsiness by constricting the blood vessels and slowing the flow of oxygen to the brain.
Of course you want to reward attendees for their hard work with "treats" throughout the day so — together with your conference services manager — you can select food and beverage options that are tempting, tasty AND beneficial to attendee performance. Substitute fruits and whole-grain breads for pastries. Spices can replace sauces to bring flavor to main dishes. Side dishes such as quinoa, chickpeas, succotash or vegetables sautéed in healthy oils are all better options than potatoes.
Andrea Sullivan, president of the employee performance firm BrainStrength Systems, notes that making such healthy menu alterations will make a real difference in performance. For a morning session, she says, "I wake up two hours ahead of the meeting and have an energy bar. One hour before, I have yogurt with blueberries. On the whole, you want balance in your protein and carbohydrates. That balance will bring about a good mental state."
What about caffeine? The latest scientific thought is that it has a stimulative effect to a point, but consumption beyond that will cause people to crash. Sullivan suggests, "Perhaps planners don't offer unlimited coffee throughout a meeting, or at least inform people of the amount of coffee that will pep them up — but not set them back — later in the session." Planners could also recommend tea an an option, which delivers the caffeine attendees crave, but is absorbed at a slower rate to extend the feeling of wakefulness.
Getting your attendees on-board is a great idea too. You can address the group by saying, "There is a strategy in place regarding our food choices for the next few days. They were made so you can be at your best throughout our event." This statement invites attendees to reflect on how food consumption affects them and gives them an appreciation for your efforts.
At Kiawah Island Golf Resort, an oceanfront meetings property set just outside Charleston, SC, the conference services team works closely with every meeting planner to ensure that the menu will deliver top performance, as well as superior variety and flavor. Terry Treuting, director of catering and conference services, notes that "sometimes a group wants healthy foods regardless of whether they are locally sourced. But other times, they specifically ask for local foods, which lets us tell attendees an interesting story about what they're eating".
When it comes to scheduling, it's actually the time in between the sessions that's crucial to maximize attendee performance. A planner can keep people alert not only with the right food and beverage served during the breaks, but also with some mild physical exertion in the form of a game, contest or other team building exercise.
At Kiawah Island Golf Resort, meetings that take place at the East Beach Conference Center — as well as the four large golf clubhouses across the property — have outdoor decks for attendees to get some fresh air and refuel. The clubhouses also have practice greens just steps from the meeting space, allowing for a putt-putt competition during meeting breaks that gets attendees moving around.
At The Sanctuary — Kiawah's 255-room five star hotel with two ballrooms, seven large breakout rooms, plus an ocean view lawn — Treuting will arrange brisk beach walks during meeting breaks to reinvigorate attendees and make the event more memorable.
Even The Spa at Kiawah Island Golf Resort can contribute to the cause. Treuting often coordinates neck-and-shoulder massage stations in meeting break areas. After sitting so long, tense-muscled attendees will be very grateful for the moment of bliss and relaxation. It's just one more way Kiawah can help maintain attendee wellness and performance, and ensure that the return on investment for every meeting is maximized.