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Beyond the Coffee Break. Striking the Right Balance Between Learning, Networking, and Fun at Your Event

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In today’s busy environment there are many things vying for attendee’s time and money, making it more important than ever to build the “perfect” event to entice them to attend. Often times this results in cramming as much programming into the time we have to ensure attendees get enough out of their commitment – and so they don’t sneak off into their rooms to do work or go to the beach when the destination is just too good to miss. But, is there a chance we’re giving them too much? And, what about the introverts and those attendees who find networking, and unstructured time, uncomfortable?  How do we find just the right mix of structured programming while offering opportunities for organic networking and some fun too?? 

While I don’t believe there is one answer that fits all, and not every activity will appeal to every attendee, I do think there are several ways to incorporate some “downtime” that keeps attendees engaged – without burning them out. 

Here are some tips to consider to meet attendees in the middle. 

1. Plan for enough short breaks in between education sessions to allow attendees some time to get out of their seats and move around, grab some coffee, refill their water, or use the restroom. While these breaks won’t offer a lot of networking in time, it is important to schedule these breaks often enough so that attendees do not experience classroom fatigue. After sitting and listening to a speaker for 90-120 minutes, getting up will be appreciated. 

2. Create facilitated networking opportunities within your program. This is different from a typical session where the speaker does all the talk. This is meant to be interactive and to create a dialog between the attendees. It is important that you have facilitators, equipped with tools and resources, to foster the conversations and to help attendees who may be less comfortable in this environment. Do some pre-work/training with your facilitators to ensure they feel supported and ready for their role. You may even want to poll your attendees to identify hot topics for these interactive gatherings to ensure they are enticing and offer take aways that attendees can put to use back at work.

3. Skip the sit-down meal functions and set up strolling buffets in a different area of the venue. This is a great way to keep people moving and talking. The more you can move your attendees around versus staying in one place will naturally provide opportunities for attendee conversation. 

4. Build a free night into your program. If you are in a touristy area that you think attendees may be tempted to skip sessions to enjoy the venue or surrounding areas, build that time right into your program. Work with the local Convention & Visitors Bureau to provide attendees with ideas of things to do that may appeal to all different attendees. 

5. Offer a healthy pre-activity such as an organized morning walk. Not only does this appeal to your health-conscious attendees, but it also provides a space for organic conversations to take place with fellow walkers. Particularly if you are in venue near a park or lake that offers a safe, scenic walk, this maybe the prefect start to the day. Depending on the time of year and weather, this could easily be a mid-day, or early evening option too. 

6. Use gamification on a mobile event app to send attendees on a scavenger hunt that forces them to interact with one another. Not everyone will get into this, but you may be surprised to see just how competitive some attendees will get! 

There are many options to explore and of course, you will need to find ideas that fit your audience. Consider surveying your past attendees to see if they would have preferred more downtime, more education, or more opportunities for fun and networking. Keep in mind if attendees are coming to receive continuing education hours, there is likely a threshold of hours they will expect to receive for attending and you want to preserve that with the appropriate educational offerings. 

Also remember, all the ideas above, and others you come up with, may provide additional sponsorship opportunities. Sponsors often have some of the best ideas for interacting with attendees so consider getting their input too. 

If you have other ideas that have worked for you, share them with our readers by sending them to

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