The secret ingredient missing from conferences and training workshops

Langebaan-Country-EstateWe’ve all been there – either as facilitators, trainers or participants. The session starts off well, everyone is engaged, but after about two hours you see the energy levels in the room begin to flag. Right, you think, time for a break. Let’s have some Five Roses and Lemon Creams and everyone will come back refreshed. But you seldom get back to the focus and intensity of those first 90 minutes.

Instead of the traditional tea break, you could be honing your delegates’ focus, helping them learn faster, improving their recall, stimulating more creative input in the discussion phases and – bottom line – giving better results for the cost of the training/conference investment.

The secret is an exercise break. The weight of evidence in support of this might surprise you, so here are just a few of the studies being published on the phenomenon.

  • Psychologists at the University of Iowa have found that “working memory performance … was acutely enhanced by moderate-intensity exercise.”
  • Scientists at the University of Muenster have proved that high-impact physical exercise before cognitive exercise greatly enhances the speed of learning.
  • The schools of Physiology and Psychology at Georgia Institute of Technology demonstrated that those who did resistance exercise after being shown images ‘had higher overall recognition accuracy than the group that did not exercise’ 48 hours later.
  • And a similar study by the Department of Physiology at the University of Dublin showed that memory improved after exercise, even in their group of  “sedentary” participants. The researchers noted that ‘these changes in cognitive function were paralleled by increased concentration of BDNF… in the serum of exercising subjects.’
  • Even a walk will inspire creativity amongst trainees – a study at Stanford University has proved that walking, whether inside or outside, ‘boosts creative ideation in real time and shortly after’, though ‘walking outside produced the most novel and highest quality analogies.’

So, the message is clear: if you want to ensure your event gets the best engagement possible and returns optimum results, you need to bring physical activity into the mix.

Of course, you’ll have different levels of fitness in your group. Some delegates will enjoy pushing themselves physically, others will prefer resistance training or moderate-intensity exercise, and many will be largely sedentary like that group of Irish students.

This brings into play the venue you choose. ‘You want to be somewhere where a 30-minute break can easily translate into 15-20 minutes of exercise, and where all delegates’ fitness levels can be catered for,’ says Chantel Reynell, an experienced workshop and conference organiser and current hospitality manager at Langebaan Country Estate.

‘Look for somewhere that offers a broad range of activities, alongside a modern training or conference centre,’ she says. ‘Remember, there should be enough options available to provide something fun and enjoyable (even adventurous) for everyone. For example, delegates at break-away conferences held at the Langebaan Country Estate can choose from running or cycling, tennis and netball, or golf, bowls and walking, plus a host of other options.’

Reynell adds that she’d recommend incorporating team-building exercises into the schedule too: ‘That way you get the benefit of the exercise stimulation as well as forging a stronger unit. We get great feedback even from close-knit teams who have incorporated such activities into their itinerary.’

Take the Cape Cobras cricket side, who recently held a team strat session at the Langebaan Country Estate. Afterwards Aviwe Mgijima, the Cobras’ all-rounder said, ‘The activities that were organised for us, such as foot golf, Mashie golf and lawn bowls, were perfect for what we were trying to achieve over those few days and the positivity amongst the players can only stand us in good stead for the tough but exciting season ahead.’

Head coach, Ashwell Prince concurred: ‘It was a great couple of days of bonding. We also had an opportunity to sit down in the fantastic conference facility at Langebaan Country Estate and re-visit things like team culture, which is important.’

Says Reynell: ‘There’s no doubt in my mind that some form of exercise during a training workshop, strategy session or conference is highly beneficial. And team-building initiatives stick a team together like glue. There are also enormous benefits to taking these off-site. I see the results every week at the events we hold at Langebaan Country Estate!’

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