Tom Lambregts is marketing manager at Grass Roots Meetings & Events, and co-edited the Meetings Industry Report. Starting his career at Clarion Events, he then went on to become head of marketing at Olympia London, where he directed and delivered the award-winning rebrand of the venue. He specialises in digital and content-led marketing, and maintains a keen interest in music and reading.
Mindfulness in meetings and events
Would [footballer] have scored from that free kick against [team] if they hadn’t composed themself, shut everything out and taken deep breaths? It was no guarantee of performance but it certainly helped. These actions exhibit the key tenets of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the latest trend exploring how to improve how we function at work and, contrary to the name; it goes beyond the mind, into the physical and dietary.
Finding a way to avoid mental and physical fatigue, and its resulting consequences, is especially pertinent for scenarios where we are in close, extended proximity with colleagues or clients. Consequently a number of hotels and venues are developing approaches and adopting techniques to support their clients, guests and themselves in enhancing meetings and events.
This isn’t just a new buzzword. The concept has been used in psychology since 1979 according to Cinzia Pezzolesi – a Chartered Clinical Psychologist and VP of the Centre for Mindful Eating – who has been supporting Hilton with their approach. Pezzolesi describes it as a “pure awareness of what is going on inside your mind and body… …Paying attention to the present moment, and avoiding worrying about past and future.”
If we elaborate further, “Paying more attention to the present moment – to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you – can improve your mental wellbeing.” Professor Mark Williams continues: "It's about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives."
Applying these principles of mindfulness in the corporate environment can bring more than personal benefits. We make better decisions when we are more aware of our surroundings, and can improve how we respond to pressure. Anxiety can be alleviated by recalibrating, and challenging predisposed actions. This recalibration can be achieved by something as simple as taking a breath but what’s important is that it makes you more open to what emotions and opinions come towards you.
According to Pezzolesi, the automation brain is 20 times faster - and the emotional brain five times faster - than thinking. If you receive an email that riles you, stop and think. During that thinking time, mindfulness will enable you to realize your physical reaction. Emotions have typical physical reactions, whether they be tensing up, hunching shoulders, tilting the neck. Wait until you relinquish that physical reaction. Take those deep breaths. Sense your feet’s connection to the floor, and your body. Do this often enough and your mind and body will learn to automate it, and your time to react will shrink.
A meetings and events professional may scoff at this point, asserting that you don’t have time to think or that you’re always on the move. But a pressured environment doesn’t need to be stressful. Welcome high pressure and handle it with mindfulness. Increase your self-awareness and choose your times to recover. When you walk from one meeting room to another, focus your attention on your feet. Count steps, connecting with your body. Pause and breathe. Pay attention to sensation in your feet. Taking these moments will keep you grounded.
Mindfulness in meetings
For delegates and meeting attendees, creating opportunities for mindfulness can be impulsive or initiated by sympathetic managers with the shared objective of improving performance, and venues can curate an environment to support mindfulness. Taking a moment during a meeting to connect with the body by feeling the connection between the feet on the floor, and lower body being supported by the chair. And of course regular breaks are essential. Three to five minutes every hour should do it.
The Grand Brighton Hotel suggests some novel ideas to help isolate the mind, provided by occupational therapist Carolyn Fitzgibbon and art therapist Nicole Webb. Stretching has now become less unusual in the workplace. Find a corner and raise your arms above your head, interlacing your fingers, with your palms facing upwards. Hold for five full breaths before gently releasing your arms. Repeat three to four times.
If you can’t bring yourself to do that, try coloring in. This simple yet rewarding task asks us to focus on how we choose to apply color in a design, taking us into the moment and suppressing thoughts of tomorrow or yesterday (I tried while writing this and can attest to the inability to think of anything other than the process of coloring).
During the meeting, single-task rather than multi-task. For example don’t check your emails whilst trying to listen to the speaker. Multi-tasking affects your mental energy and leaves you tired at the end of the day. The more you can ignore digital devices, the better, so use meetings as a license to have a ‘digital detox’. You’re supposed to be paying attention anyway!
Catering for mindfulness
Abandoning white tablecloths and bone china may seem a strange way to support this, but that is exactly what Hilton has done with their new Meetings Simplified package. In 50 of their properties, for meetings of up to 25, the whole array of food and drink is available with the aim of enabling guests to break when they feel like it.
As you graze you can adopt mindfulness techniques to increase culinary satisfaction – put simply, think about what you’re eating and you will enjoy it, and the moment, more – and don’t use your mobile or laptop while eating as this robs you of that valuable time to disconnect. Hilton also rotate what food is on offer, in small batches to reduce wastage, with environmentally friendly packaging (no more straws or plastic bottles, cans that are chosen for compression potential) that improves sustainability. Hydrating is critical - tea and coffee in moderation as they can actually make you more unsettled. Water is best, and lots of it.
Support mindfulness in your meetings and events and you can expect a more rewarding, sustainable and profitable outcome. From a personal perspective, opportunities to engage in mindfulness present themselves to you throughout your working day. Take them. No-one else is obliged to do so for you, and leading by example will inspire others to follow.