Ditch the Doughnuts to Boost Attendee Wellness

Author: Cristi Kempf       

attendee fitness

Attendees of the Health and Wellness Forum dine on health-conscious fare at the Hotel at Midtown in Chicago. Event organizers said the healthy and sustainable dining options created by Chef Amanda Barnes were a reason the event was held at the hotel.

Don’t do a doughnut wall.

That advice to event planners from Rachael Riggs, CMP, Tourism Vancouver’s Midwest sales manager, got laughs when it was shared — partly in jest — at the recent Health and Wellness Forum in Chicago.

But it was a playful way to get at the more serious message she delivered: “Everybody wants to be healthy, not everyone knows how to be healthy, [and] it’s our jobs as event planners,” she said, to make our events more healthy.

Attendee Fitness

Rachael Riggs, Tourism Vancouver’s Midwest sales manager and president-elect of PCMA’s Greater Midwest Chapter, spoke at the recent Health and Wellness Forum in Chicago.

But it’s not just about making a difference in people’s waistlines. A focus on health and wellness also makes good business sense, she noted. In fact, the 2018 Global Wellness Economy Monitor calculated that the global wellness economy is worth $4.2 trillion. “People are wanting to take care of themselves,” she said, and they want to go to events where good health is emphasized.

The three-day Health and Wellness Forum — with the theme of “Changing How Events are Delivered” and presented by MeetingHealthy, a network of wellness resources for event planners — was held at the Hotel at Midtown, a boutique hotel affiliated with a high-end health club. The forum featured meditation, mocktails, and morning workouts amid such sessions as “Self-Care is Not Selfish,” led by Aileen Baxter, a life coach. It drew about 60 people from across North America, about 60 percent of whom were planners and 40 percent suppliers, Riggs said.

Riggs, president-elect of PCMA’s Greater Midwest Chapter and one of the architects of the annual health and wellness meeting, led a breakout session titled “Designing a Healthy Attendee Experience With Wellness and CSR,” joined by Kristina Tarantino, CMP, founder of MeetingHealthy. “People are seeking experiences for them to live well and be socially responsible,” Riggs said. “So, wellness and CSR — I totally believe they go hand in hand.”

To demonstrate that natural connection, the CSR initiative at this event was for attendees to put together baby-care kits for I Grow Chicago. According to the nonprofit’s website, I Grow Chicago aims to create “a culture of hope” in Englewood, which is consistently ranked as one of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods.

Suggestions for event planners at Riggs’ session included providing meditation moments or yoga breaks; creating wellness suites, featuring comfy seating and diffused essential oils; “sweatworking” instead of networking (meaning skip the break with extra food and offer a walking meeting or a walking focus group); putting health and wellness speakers on the agenda; bringing in life coaches for consultations; and, as one attendee suggested, opting for things like running tours, which allow meeting participants to experience a city while doing something healthy.

Riggs said that one of the easiest things planners can do to spur wellness at their events is to create “a schedule that is not so seven to seven.”

“Design a schedule with thoughtfulness and purpose, meaning give people time,” she said. “They have a life outside of the meeting. … I have kids. I have work. I can’t do it all. So if you are gonna get my full attention you’re gonna have to give me time because I have another life. ” Also on her list: “Talk to the chef and say I want to be healthy and I want to be sustainable,” and put water out on event tables.

Not everybody can go to an event and stick to their routine of healthy eating and working out, she said, so event planners need to help attendees stay on track. “Don’t do a doughnut wall,” she said. “I’m sorry, but it sends a message.”

Planning events that acknowledge and enhance the health of attendees has taken on a sense of urgency because millennials are demanding such measures. Health, wellness, and CSR all play a role in whether they decide to attend an event, Riggs said.

What’s next on the wellness horizon? There are a lot of different versions of wellness beyond physical, said Riggs, pointing to social wellness (or CSR), intellectual wellness, financial wellness, and spiritual wellness.

“We’re not touching all of these right now. … We’re trying to get people to eat differently and be active and the millennials are already doing that. … They’re gonna want what’s next.”

The next Health and Wellness Forum is May 30-June 1 at Lake Lawn Resort in Delavan, Wisconsin.

Cristi Kempf is executive editor of Convene