By Terry Matthews-Lombardo, CMP
When planners think of coffee breaks at their meetings, it’s usually in the context of “what time do we schedule it in to the program and how long will it last?” In an age where every line item in the program schedule is being questioned and challenged, savvy planners are rethinking the standard breaks of the past and jazzing them up in many ways. Even standard Java breaks are being reinvented thanks, in part, to our unfailing devotion to all things coffee.
According to some, there’s a new emphasis on brain stimulus, possibly fueled by our dependence on connectivity via electronic devices. So if you’re looking for fresh ideas, why not look in the opposite direction as in things that do not require a cell phone or laptop? One planner suggested hanging different world maps around with invitations to ‘pin your dream vacation spot’ or ‘show us where you want your next meeting to be held.’ Another suggestion was to have some easy, giant jigsaw puzzles located on tables surrounding your food and beverage. Take this one step further by having the puzzles custom made with your company logo, team slogan, or even employee pictures. Imagine the conversations that could take place as cell phones are forgotten and groups of people are working diligently together to solve a brainteaser like this during their allotted break time! It seems the best way to get people to put their electronics down is to provide charging stations next to these alternative activity pods so they can watch their devices get juiced while their mind is on a little expansion journey of another kind.
Of course health and wellness breaks have been in the forefront for quite some time now and there are always ways to kick these up another notch as well. Having yoga instructors assisting attendees into simple breathing and stretching exercises is quite popular now as well as providing masseuses for quick mini hand or neck massages. Or maybe you want to wake everyone up in between topics? Forget about relaxation and get active by enlisting a local Zumba expert to encourage everyone to shake things up when it’s time to re-enter the meeting room. Check with your local contacts at the CVB or a contracted DMC to find licensed instructors familiar with meetings and events for any of these ideas. Any form of exercise garners better participation when accompanied by the appropriate mood music along with creative food and beverage offerings. Most hotels are happy to personalize their menus to a specific chosen theme and by all means share your budget concerns to make sure your outside-the-box thinking is not out of touch with reality!
Another trendy but relevant idea is to appeal to the senses, especially color, smell and taste, by focusing on bright hues and fresh, fragrant products on the break stations. Pick one shade to focus on or use a variety of colors to make the area pop, but make sure that every food and beverage choice adds tint and dimension. Take it a step further with your choice of linens and décor. For instance, have fun with a creative orange theme and think pound cake (visually pretty), ready to eat quartered oranges (sense of smell and freshness) and maybe some festive sherbet (cool and refreshing). Or, tone things down with an organic green theme. Playful pink just screams for frosted donuts, doesn’t it? Even if you’re stuck with plain coffee and Danish you can make your break station pop with some colorful décor and meaningful messages, motivational sayings or humorous touches that make the overall presentation visually pleasing and stimulating.
Whatever creative touches you apply to your breaks, make sure to remember a few simple guidelines:
- At a minimum, people need to do two things during a standard break: use the washrooms and have something refreshing to either eat or drink, or both. Even if your meeting budget can’t cover the FB portion, make sure your venue has something open for attendees to shop in and allows sufficient time for addressing this need.
- Beyond those two needs, think of what else would be expected of this scheduled time and determine what’s most important - waking attendees up, providing a temporary distraction from an intense learning environment, using this time for networking with other attendees or plugging in to electronic devices to stay connected. Each of these reasons are valid for a break and can present different opportunities for creative planning.
- Breaks can also feature exhibitors, sponsors and vendors as well as announce upcoming events, so make good use of all your available resources and have some fun thinking outside the ‘boring break’ box!