The days of boxed-in, windowless meetings are officially a thing of the past. Attendees want access to nature—whether it’s strolling along a park-like setting or spending time by the water. But what is the best way to designing events that make use of the venue’s indoor and outdoor space to enhance, rather than detract from the business goals?
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1. Meet in earshot of nature.
Most modern venues offer outdoor terrace spaces attached to indoor meeting rooms or use meeting spaces that have windows overlooking nature. Consider hosting group meals on a property’s covered terrace, where guests can take in fresh air and the sights of nature. Even just the sounds of nature trigger a relaxation response in the brain. Harvard physician Eva M. Selhub, co-author of Your Brain on Nature, says a drop of nature is like a drop of morphine to the brain since it stimulates reward neurons in your brain, turns off the stress response to lower cortisol levels, lower heart rate and blood pressure, and improves immune response. And when stress is low, focus is possible, which fosters more productive meetings.
2. Schedule walking meetings.
Access a nearby public park with walking trails for out-of-the-box teaming. Think of this exercise as a supplement to a large meeting format. When an opportunity for breakouts arises (such as brainstorming), break into small groups (up to five per group) for a set amount of time. Have goals clearly stated and get out into nature to talk it out. My current venue, for example, is next to more than 50 forested acres with walking paths. When team members are literally striding on common ground, hierarchies and work titles diminish, blood circulates, and creativity is boosted.
3. Cast Off.
If the venue is close to water, forge a partnership with a local boat charter for on-the-water opportunities. In Wallace J. Nichols’ book Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do, the author uses science to illustrate how being close to water (oceans, lakes, rivers, waterfalls) can make us not only happier, but also more successful in life, and ultimately in business. Water’s de-stressing and centering effects can be profound for meeting outcomes.
4. Add a touch of green.
Options range from fresh flowers to a decorative water feature (fountain fixture) or a monitor with a water or nature scene, to vibrant snack breaks (think veggie crudites, whole edamame (currently very popular) and healthy lettuce wraps). These uplifting natural touches go the extra step to welcome in the natural world.
Science is backing up what many have long suspected: access to nature boosts productivity. The only thing left to do now is get the outdoors into your next meeting.
Jennifer Grosclaude is the Director of Sales, Marketing and Events for Hyatt Regency Lake Washington, a 347-room, 12-story waterfront hotel at Seattle’s Southport. She has more than 20 years’ experience in planning, catering and event management.