By Beth Buehler
If you have looked around at hotel lobbies lately, especially those built or renovated in the past five years or so, they are designed with interactivity in mind. Kimpton Hotel Born and HALCYON, two newer properties in Denver, and the recent upgrade to the lobby space at historic Hotel Boulderado in Boulder all come to mind when thinking of this trend. Not limited to only lobbies, it’s also spilled over into the mingling and reception areas surrounding hotel meeting and event space and what attendees are looking for on agendas.
Personally, I like where this is headed as it makes meetings more fun, networking rich and educationally worthwhile. Learning just seems to have more impact when it’s interactive versus just listening. So how do you get beyond the “Hi My Name Is …” nametags and into what is memorable and engaging?
Get outside the meeting room – Whether it’s riding a chairlift or gondola together to take some turns on the ski slopes or access an amazing on-mountain dinner location, offering an early morning hike before breakfast or hosting a “walking conference” that involves several venues located within a few blocks of each other, getting beyond the four walls matters. For example, local outfitters like Idaho Springs-based Colorado Adventure Center can help with raft, kayak, bike, zipline and aerial adventures. For milder mingling, Vail Valley Food and Beer Tours and Taste of Denver Food Tours provide all sorts of options as does blessings! Art Workshops. It’s good to offer a variety of choices.
The main point is that today’s meetings need to have at least one or more items on the agenda that take attendees outside the host hotel. For me, it seems to open the door wider to meet other attendees and in a different way than within the structure of the actual meeting times. If I’ve hiked or enjoyed yoga with you before the work clothes go on, we seem to interact more throughout the rest of the conference. Funny how that works!
Encourage mingling – Sometimes it’s as easy as having a lounge or coffeehouse-style spaces at the conference to encourage interaction between sessions or issuing a passport so that participants circulate between various tasting stations that offer samplings of Colorado wine, beer or foods. Follow up with related trivia at dinner (Geeks Who Drink can even help out), and the table that wins can be rewarded in some fun way like a free spa treatment, a round of champagne, etc.
I recently met up with a college friend and her husband while they were attending a leadership meeting in Aspen hosted by his insurance company. One of the activities was a 1970s-themed dinner and dance where they were encouraged to wear costumes. While costumes don’t work for every group, just seeing the attire hanging in my friends’ closet got us talking, especially the platform shoes!
Last year, Destination Colorado structured a customer appreciation event around a Beatles tribute concert held in August at the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, just west of Denver. Vintage costume items, a photo booth and dinner reception before the concert gave participants plenty of time to interact in the beautiful meeting space at Red Rocks before the performance.
Recruit speakers and offer workshops that help engage the crowd – I still remember Denver-based Steve Spangler using some of his educational science “toys” to engage an audience of approximately 1,000 at the Colorado Convention Center a few years ago. The approach got each round table of eight or 10 doing activities together during his keynote. What a great way to start a conference by already being familiar with a handful of people! Two of these toys still live on and have been the source of conversation and entertainment between countless teenagers in my home.
Breakout session speakers and leaders also have the power to get participants mingling with hands-on case studies, interactive projects and small-group discussions. A good example is the upcoming International Live Events Association’s annual conference that is being held in downtown Denver this August. New for 2018, ILEA Live is offering three add-on workshops before the opening night activities: Creative Super Heroes Have No Box, Chopped Kitchen Challenge, and Wanted – Creative Problem Solvers to Tackle 4 Industry Issues. The titles and descriptions scream, “You will be getting to know other participants here!” This is ideal for a conference that attracts attendees from around the globe.
Offer team-building that matters – In other applications, activities like Chopped Kitchen Challenge are fun for team-building and especially meaningful if dishes are taken to a local homeless shelter or after-school program to be served and shared. Colorado also has all sorts of ways to help with the state’s four national parks, thousands of miles of local trails, a variety of food banks and more. Colorado-based CBST Adventures along with destination management companies and destination marketing organizations can help attendees connect with each other and local causes, creating a win-win situation. Just looking at CBST Adventures’ list of neat options reminds me how much team-building has changed in the nearly 15 years that I’ve been covering the meetings and events industry, and in a good way.
Attend local events – For me, getting a taste of the local scene when traveling is just good for the spirit! When that is happening for multiple people who are attending the same meeting, good things are bound to happen. People naturally bond over a picnic dinner while attending a summer concert in the park or at the base of one of Colorado’s ski areas. Or perhaps it’s purchasing a bunch of tickets to attend a beer, wine or food festival that overlaps with a conference agenda or wandering one of the terrific farmer’s markets in towns like Vail, Grand Junction, Telluride, Aspen, Boulder and Denver and providing market bucks to purchase lunch or snacks to bring back to the room.
These are just starting points for the many ways that groups can get beyond the nametag to forming meaningful interaction among attendees. The key is getting creative and knowing your group’s style!
Beth Buehler is editor of Colorado Meetings + Events and Mountain Meetings magazines, has planned numerous meetings and events and enjoys exploring Colorado.