A number of virtual events, including Symphony Talent’s Transform event, have introduced meditation breaks as a way to help attendees focus and provide some stress relief during the continuing COVID-19 crisis.
While the many physical and mental health benefits of meditation have been widely documented and mindfulness has become more mainstream, there are still many who don’t understand or like it — so it’s not a given that every participant is going to jump into a meditation session with both feet. In my experience, they’ll likely fall into three different groups: The Ews, Skeptics, and the I’m Okay, You’re Okay, I’ma Gonna Stay camps.
If you’re considering the possibility of including optional mindfulness sessions into your program, you should first be clear about your intentions and what you hope to accomplish, such as:
- Offering a new and different way to elevate the virtual attendee experience.
- Helping your attendees overcome meeting or screen fatigue and stay connected to the content you have worked so hard to deliver.
- Giving participants the opportunity to learn about and experience the benefits of mindfulness in an engaging format, particularly if you have personally benefited from the practice.
- Providing attendees with tools to reduce stress, recharge, and refocus that will transcend the life of your program.
- Incorporating wellbeing activities into your event aligns with your core organizational values.
If you’ve been thinking of adding mindfulness and meditation practices to your face-to-face program for some time now, you might actually get more traction introducing them during COVID-19 at a virtual event. Some participants may not fall squarely in the Ew or Skeptic camp — mindfulness and meditation may simply be unknown concepts for them and they are self-conscious about trying it out in front of others. These attendees may be more likely to give it a go alone in the safety of their homes via a screen rather than in a room filled with strangers.
Here are five practical approaches for incorporating mindfulness into your virtual meeting:
- The mindfulness session itself should last five minutes. Seriously. A five-minute meditation session is a great way to introduce the practice to the Ew and Skeptic camps.
- Seek out a mindfulness facilitator who will explain what it is. It doesn’t have to be an entire session, perhaps a very simple and practical brief overview. Carve out some time for Q&A with the facilitator in case attendees have questions about what to expect before — and to help process their experience after — the mindfulness session.
- Make sure your facilitator takes a secular approach for inclusivity purposes. Ask for a sample recording of their work. While meditation has its roots in Buddhism, a nonspiritual approach will be more widely accepted by groups.
- Mindfulness is much more than meditation and can include practices such as mindful movement, noticing, and even music.
Unlike a seated breathing meditation where the focus may be only on the breath, the practice of mindful movement (no need to put on your yoga pants) uses the body as the anchor of our awareness and can be guided seated or standing. This guided practice is used to help bring coherence to our mind and body, essentially creating synchronization between the movement of the body, breath, and mind. This may include simple shoulder and neck rolls as well as basic and safe stretching that can be done by anyone. When we bring our focus to our bodies through guided movement, we are by default present and less likely to be “in our heads” or lost in thought. Our minds may get quieter and we may even feel more energized and present. Short spurts of movement have the potential to snap us out of an afternoon slump — and attendees can certainly turn off their cameras if they choose to do so.
With mindfulness, we’re increasing our capacity to cultivate being present — and noticing what we are experiencing with our senses — in the moment. Practicing mindfulness through noticing may use sight as the focus of awareness. This simple practice is an excellent way to become grounded and present. It involves scanning one’s surroundings and simply mentally noting each object the eyes are taking in — in a micro view without attachment or judgment — such as a door, light switch, or chair, and may also involve a macro view of everything one’s eyes can take in all at one time.
Sprinkle these breaks throughout the program to help attendees refocus their energy, give them space to reflect on what they’ve learned, or simply provide an opportunity to stretch between sessions.
- Consider holding off on introducing an actual meditation practice until the end of a one-day event or on the second day, after your facilitator has established rapport and credibility with your audience. By demystifying the what and the why of mindfulness with a clear, science-based, and secular approach, you can help overcome the hesitations of those in the Ew and the Skeptic camps and they’ll be more likely to accept the invitation to participate.
When the alignment of your content and your intentions is clearly understood by participants, you will not only enhance their engagement in your program but give them something with even more lasting value.
Shelley Brown is a 20-plus-year events industry veteran now serving the industry as a mindfulness trainer and speaker.