Dear Adrian—How can we incorporate exercise into event programs?

incorporate exercise into event programsHow can we incorporate exercise into event programs?

Sue Walton, MeCo co-founder, asks on the long-running MeetingsCommunity (MeCo, registration needed):

Q: How do you incorporate exercise into your (event) programs?

A: Exercise during events is important because blood flow to our brains starts to decline within ten minutes of sitting still. Any kind of movement incorporated into sessions helps to boost alertness back to the level when people first sat down.

Adding early morning running or yoga sessions into conference schedules is becoming increasingly common. That’s great, but providing opportunities to exercise between and during conference sessions is also possible. Interpreting “exercise” loosely, here are four additional ways to incorporate exercise into an event.

Walking maps

Before the event, prepare and distribute maps showing walking and/or jogging routes that start and end at the venue. Include time estimates for each route, so participants can see options for exercise that will fit into their schedule. Make it easy for participants to incorporate healthy movement into their conference experience.

Short standing-in-place exercise

If people have been sitting for a while, face the group and lead them in a minute of standing-in-place exercise. You might say “We’ve been sitting for a while, so I’d like to lead you through a minute of gentle exercise. Please avoid anything that is uncomfortable for you. Please stand [PAUSE].”

Then demonstrate and lead participants through the following:

  • “Rotate your shoulders by slowly raising them up, back and down. Continue for around twenty seconds.”
  • “Bring palms together in front of chest. Slowly raise arms straight above the head, with hands apart or together. While keeping arms raised, slowly swivel hips for twenty seconds.”
  • “Slowly turn your head to the right until you feel a slight stretch. Be careful not to tip or tilt your head forward or backward, but hold it in a comfortable position. Hold for ten seconds, and then return to facing forward. Repeat, turning to the left.”

Walking sessions

Schedule sessions where participants are walking and talking together. Intersperse them in the schedule, so no one is sitting for an entire morning or afternoon. Event producers might include a pertinent facility or nearby resource tour, but also consider holding small discussion breakouts while people walk—ideally in interesting or beautiful surroundings, though that’s not necessary.

Make sure that the activity you propose is accessible to those who can’t walk easily; scooter or golf-cart access might be needed.

Just the act of walking while thinking and talking will elevate the quality of the discussion.


For a quick energy boost, play Grab! Have people stand and pair up with someone they don’t know. (Another option is to have them find someone with the same color eyes.)

Ask each pair to decide who’s A and who’s B. Then have the A’s hold one hand out, palm and fingers flat and facing B at a comfortable height.

B then points her index finger at A’s palm at the same height. B’s task is then to rapidly touch the center of A’s palm with her index finger and pull it away before A can grab it.

Giggles will ensue! Give each pair around sixty to ninety seconds to play and then have them switch roles.

How have you incorporated exercise into your events? Share your ideas in the comments below.

Photo attribution: Flickr user taedc

Adrian & KaylaAnother issue of an occasional series—Dear Adrian—in which I answer questions sent to me about event design, elementary particle physics, solar hot water systems, and anything else I might conceivably know something about. If you have a question you’d like me to answer, please write to me (don’t worry, I won’t publish anything without your permission).

Conferences need to be flexible!

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Conferences need to be flexible!

We are informed about conferences by email, we arrive by airplane, and we gaze at fancy PowerPoint presentations, but, year after year, over a hundred million people experience a conference process that has changed very little since the 17th century.
Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love

We need to make our conferences flexible. We need an exercise program for our events. Why? Here are three reasons.

1) Broadcast-style presentations are moving online

We spend over one hundred billion dollars every year on conferences. And this figure does not include the value of attendees’ time. We routinely spend these huge amounts of money and time to bring people together to meet face to face. Only to feed them a program that was determined six months before. What is the point?

These days, real-time content can be shared online as soon as it’s available. It’s no longer necessary to waste time and money flying people to a common physical location where they then sit and listen to predetermined presenters. Online videos and webinars can handle known and/or mandatory content distribution efficiently and at much lower cost.

So what can we do at face-to-face conferences that we can’t do well online? Provide on-the-fly learning and connection opportunities that take maximum advantage of the people in the room!

2) Human knowledge is exploding

The current explosion of knowledge and, hence, associated conference topics, is driving a need for flexible conference approaches that can handle the increasingly complex and faster paced real-time needs of today’s attendees. This is just-in-time learning. Surprisingly, there are effective and tested ways of putting attendees in charge of what they wish to learn and discuss. But you cannot give conference participants opportunities to determine what they wish to learn and discuss if you freeze your program before they arrive.

3) How we need to learn has changed

The final significant trend inexorably shaping adult learning is that adults now only learn about ten percent of what they need to know to do their jobs formally: in the classroom or at meeting presentations. Ninety percent of relevant adult learning today is informal; supplied through on-the-job experience and practice, connections with our peers, and self-directed learning.

Conferences—where attendee peers come together at one time and place—are the perfect place to create a rich environment for informal peer learning. We can’t continue to waste this opportunity with the rigid pre-determined sessions of the past. Instead, we need to set up opportunities for relevant peer learning to flourish in the sessions themselves.

Exercise flexibility for a healthy event

All conference organizers know the truism that to keep people coming to your events you need to provide an experience that meets their needs. Unfortunately, many believe that this is just a question of providing the “right content”. Not any more! Truly successful events these days need to provide the right environment and formats for desired and appropriate learning and connecting to flourish.

You can respond to this challenge by adopting participant-driven and participation-rich meeting formats and techniques that adapt to the unpredictable, individual, and constantly changing requirements of today’s attendees. This exercise, while perhaps a little painful to start, will keep you and your events flexible. Remember, the quicker you start, the healthier your events will become!

Photo attribution: Flickr user theloushe