Conference fatigue is a common problem for 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.
This affects the brain as much as the body. The more tightly scheduled the program, the more tired attendees are—and the less able to retain information. What is needed is an energy fix to fight sitting fatigue and learning fatigue, as well as to boost concentration and alertness.
Traditionally, meeting planners 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. 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 are typically held early in the morning and attract few attendees. Fitness breaks (delivered in-person or by video) offered during the conference day are the answer. Attendees are very positive about them, particularly when the breaks are brief, sweat-free and able to be done in business attire in seats at the conference sessions.
Examples of exercises that can be done include dynamic (moving) and static (stationary) stretches of both large and small muscle groups, as well as strengthening exercises. Large-muscle strengthening exercises (for example, squats, leg lifts, chair sit-ups) and stretches (lower back extensions, pelvic tilts, heel raises, yoga poses) are best shown by video for close-up views and for demonstrating proper technique needed to avoid injury.
Fitness breaks can be integrated easily into event agendas when energy levels are low (mid-morning and mid-afternoon), time-fillers during program gaps 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 generally feel great afterward.
How to Integrate Breaks Into Your Meeting:
Introduce the fitness break with enthusiasm.
Moderators or session chairs need to introduce the break enthusiastically to put participants in the right frame of mind to exercise. This will motivate attendees to stand up and participate (and not leave the room). Moderators and session chairs should be briefed in advance about how to introduce the breaks to attendees.
Become a conference coach.
Behind every successful program is a coach 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 room where the fitness breaks are done. Useful things that coaches can do are to stretch and exercise with event participants and cheer them along.
Determine the best break times and locations.
The best times to schedule fitness breaks are:
- Midmorning and midafternoon, when people become naturally sleepy as the day wears on. After lunch is an especially good time, since participants’ energy levels typically drop after a big meal.
- Before or after the keynote/plenary and in large rooms, when all participants are present and feeding off the group energy in the room.
- Before sessions, when attendees are in their seats waiting for the speaker to begin. Speakers often need this extra time, as they are busy arranging their slides and fine-tuning technical/AV details for their presentation.
- Midsession, as a spontaneous energy booster to surprise participants when their energy and alertness levels are low.
The most inopportune times for breaks are early morning and at the end of the conference day, when attendees want to be on their own or take care of business. Fitness breaks included as part of a refreshment break are not that effective, because participants are more interested in checking their smartphones, going to the restroom, grabbing a coffee or networking.
Keep attendees actively engaged throughout the conference by getting them out of their seats periodically to recharge their bodies and minds. Your event will be more memorable, and your audience will be focused and stimulated!
Kim Bercovitz, Ph.D., aka Dr. Kim, is president and chief exercise officer of Exercise Bytes Inc., a fitness technology company that licenses video-delivered fitness breaks for meetings and conferences. www.x-bytes.com