Planners have been introducing many new approaches recently to meet an event’s objectives and goals, but one aspect of meetings that is still ripe for more changes is the refreshment break.
For younger and older attendees alike, revamped session lengths and formats need to be accompanied by breaks designed to refresh the mind and body. Breaks allow time to check email and tend to immediate work needs. They also promote informal attendee interaction, which maximizes learning and understanding.
Janet Sperstad, program director for event management at Madison Technical College in Wisconsin, is seeing more meetings where sessions aren’t necessarily shorter, but speakers and topics within a session change every 20 minutes. At one session she attended, each changeover to a new speaker came with a five-minute break. Attendees could use the bathroom or check their smartphones—or simply relax while watching short comedy videos, slide shows of striking natural landscapes and other diversions.
“You can’t clench your fist for two hours straight, and your mind works the same way,” Sperstad says. “The purpose of the videos and slide shows is to activate a different part of the brain, allowing the concentration region to relax.”
Sperstad’s advice for implementing longer breaks is to use both white space and light space. The latter refers to natural elements such as sunlight, fresh air, plants, trees and moving water.
“Connecting to nature activates other regions of the brain and triggers the release of dopamine, oxytocin and other neurochemicals that refresh our cognitive abilities,” Sperstad says.
At National Conference Center in Leesburg, Virginia, extended breaks are taking place more frequently on a shaded outdoor plaza rather than the typical indoor spaces. During these breaks, the property’s chef encourages attendees to gather around the grill to observe how he seasons and prepares a few dishes. The outdoor elements, aroma of barbecue and casual cooking lesson rejuvenate people.
“Attendees are definitely coming back to their sessions with more energy,” says Kelli Mueller, director of conference services for National Conference Center.