Executive retreats are ushering in a new era of program planning, discussion styles and technology
Executive retreats allow meeting professionals to tap into their most creative frame of mind to tailor an experience for a close-knit group that is productive, yet relaxing; exciting, yet rejuvenating. It’s all about finding the balance.
Changes to traditional schedules, evolving discussion methods and recent developments in tech, such as the rise of AI, are the three biggest trends becoming increasingly crucial to building an unforgettable, inspiring small meeting.
Huong Nguyen, CEO and founder of Shiloh Events, spoke to Smart Meetings about advances in best practices for engaging, high-stakes gatherings. “My mission, ultimately, is to deliver peace in a stressful industry,” she explains.
Get Back in the Arena!
In-person destination retreats in the form of incentives, brainstorming and team building are coming back strong. Nguyen shared that according to recent studies, about 80% of attendees report that they would be willing to travel six hours or longer to attend an event.
The pandemic has left two contradictory legacies: the first is that people want to engage with one another in person and travel now more than ever; the second is that budgets are lower. A meeting planner organizing an executive retreat is now challenged to obtain an exciting location and interesting activities with a small budget. To achieve this, creativity becomes a critical skill.
Marketing departments are increasingly prioritizing program planning and considering attendee perspectives. One strategy Nguyen shared that’s proven invaluable is sending attendees pre-event surveys. “We want to get an idea of what people want to do. Who do they want to hear from? What content do they want to talk about? Where do they want to go? Are they bringing their families, and what is the best timeframe?”
These surveys give planners insight into the attendees’ preferences to ensure they are planning a retreat that no team member would want to miss out on.
Changing the Game
Mastering the budget while accounting for attendees’ wants may require a whole new way of approaching the agenda. The program can make or break an experience. “Our clients are asking us to be more creative and innovative in how we structure the entire format,” Nguyen says.
It’s common for retreats to start off the day with a keynote and then move into an incentive activity before hours of group discussion. However, especially with the rise in mental health and wellness awareness, planners like Nguyen find attendees more engaged and connected when the schedule offers an integrated distribution of activities over shorter periods. “We’re seeing ways to incorporate the content into the activities,” she said.
A day might begin with a healthy activity (yoga on the beach, anyone?) before attendees listen to a keynote. “They’re already energized, they’re already connected, they’re laughing and there’s a synergy that propels the rest of the day,” Nguyen shared.
A keynote might be followed by a 10-minute lightning-round discussion to establish goals. Wellness activities are worked into the schedule, so attendees have no reason not to participate.
But the absolute best way to avoid burnout is to schedule, well, nothing.
Nguyen shared that Shiloh planners will work in a period of leisure time from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Attendees can participate in a resort activity or stay in their room and read their favorite book; they can book a massage or sit with a colleague and chat about shared interests.
After all, Nguyen expressed, “We call it a retreat for a reason.” It’s a time for an executive team to come together and unplug from their daily stressors, build connections and get into a mindset that nurtures creativity and innovation.
Another big trend that Nguyen sees entering executive retreats is the use of AI technology. Consider OtterAI, for example—an AI software that transcribes audio into written words.
Most discussions will appoint a notetaker. But what if you didn’t need to? Whoever would have been appointed notetaker could actively participate in the discussion rather than scramble to scribble every last word. Incorporating event tech like AI-based transcripts helps people digest the content and simplifies the end-of-day recap. That way, even six months post-meeting, the executive team can revisit that discussion to track how far they’ve come.
Not only is tech such as this incredibly convenient for long-term productivity, but it makes discussions more accessible for participants who might have ADHD, a hearing disability or for whom English is their second or third language. Transcribed discussions provide access for participants to absorb the content on their own terms.
Make it Meaningful
For a truly meaningful discussion, participants must be engaged, excited and well-rested. The location and the group activities and amenities it offers are key to incentivizing attendees to be present and genuinely enjoy their time there. The guidance provided by a discussion facilitator and the accessibility provided by technology can help make the time spent together memorable and productive.
“We call it a retreat for a reason.”
– Huong Nguyen, CEO of Shiloh Events