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As an event planner, you’re probably well-versed in using mindfulness to help cope with the stress that often comes with the job. But, have you ever considered how mindfulness could be used to help event participants who often experience information overload? As events become more immersive and stimulating, there becomes a higher chance of overwhelming attendees, so we see an interesting turn in 2018 event trends. That turn is pushback against the tendency to use more tech. And we’re now seeing a strong case argued for planning an unplugged event. In fact, the need to unplug has come to the forefront in our lives, and there’s even a movement for it – the National Day of Unplugging, where participants are invited to disconnect from technology for 24 hours.

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So, it’s worth asking – do you want to make the event-goer experience more meaningful and therefore, more memorable? Then check out these simple things you can do to ensure they get more value out of each part of the event. On top of creating Wi-Fi dead zones, these include:

  • Allowing rest periods to alleviate the overwhelm so attendees can get the most value out of an event – whether that’s in terms of retaining key takeaways, creative thinking, or networking opportunities
  • Creating a comfortable environment to help event-goers focus on the present experience

Let’s take a closer look at how these ideas work to benefit event-goers and boost overall event success.

planning an unplugged event

Plan Wi-Fi “Dead Zones” To Escape The Pull Of Technology

We’ll take you through the benefits of unplugged event zones in a moment, but for now, we want you to consider the different ways you can implement this idea. Firstly, you can create specific dead zones so participants can choose if they wish to have Wi-Fi-free time. Those zones should be clearly marked with signage and indicated on any event maps, apps, and programs. The zones should also be styled to look as inviting as possible to encourage people to enter. By creating specific zones that are Wi-Fi-free, you empower event-goers to take part if they want to, without having to enforce it.

But, what about planning an unplugged event in its entirety? Depending on the type of event you’re coordinating, planning an unplugged event could be the best choice. In that case, you should let participants know ahead of time, so it isn’t unexpected. Make sure it is communicated on all marketing material, from the website to sign up emails and also provide a timely reminder as they’re entering the event.

When planning an unplugged event, it’s essential to choose the right level of tech-free space. You don’t have to be 100% unplugged the whole time to see an impact on the event and attendee experience. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why you should consider planning an unplugged event – whether that’s partially or entirely.

Planning an unplugged event

Planning an unplugged event: Give space for face-to-face interaction

Digital access is pretty much essential to getting anything done in our lives these days. But, when it comes to communicating, nothing tops face-to-face interaction. One way to maximize the social interaction of event goers is by creating zones that block access to Wi-Fi. Which types of events should you do this for? Perhaps the most obvious are events that facilitate networking, whether on a corporate level or otherwise. Consider lessening the scope for event goers to escape to their phones, when they should ideally be forming connections. This is not only important for the participants at that moment but also the perceived success of the event. You certainly wouldn’t want that success taken out of your hands thanks to event goers retreating into their digital lives, rather than communicating with those around them.

Why is face-to-face communication superior? There are many ways in-person contact outperforms digital methods. These include:

  • Higher energy and emotion is felt face-to-face
  • The ability to interpret body language is present
  • Allows for an immediate response to signals for a better connection
  • The possibility for practicing listening skills in a more accurate context

Limiting social media access for improved mindfulness

While providing untold convenience, it’s easy to see that our phones are our biggest distractions. Some events will continue to push social media involvement hard, but we’re seeing a trend develop for some to steer clear. Instead, they are planning an unplugged event. Social media is a terrible time consumer and takes people away from living in the moment. In fact, Facebook’s own Sean Parker has said one of the overarching goals of the platform is: “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?”

While it’s true in our daily lives that social media is a constant distraction, it’s the same for event goers. Are you planning a show that you’d prefer people didn’t watch through the screen of their smartphone? Maybe you’re overseeing a training seminar that gives participants the chance to ask questions of the speakers in their downtime? Many types of events can benefit from limited access to social media, which is so habit-forming. Placing limitations on its use could be the push a person needs to spend their time more intentionally. Why shouldn’t your event be the one that takes a stand? Give event-goers permission to step away from social channels and see the results for yourself.

In addition to chewing up useful time, social media is also known to contribute to levels of stress and leads to lower social fulfilment. Do you want those feelings associated with your event? Surely not. It could affect how event goers will feel walking out of that event, but it could also damage their inclinations to attend another in future. Make sure event goers feel like the time at your event was well-spent, not masked behind a blanket of social media.

Schedule structured breaks for recuperation and reflection

When creating events for a more mindful experience, it’s important to consider the difference between meditation and mindfulness. Meditation is more about inward reflection and deep thinking, while mindfulness is about experiencing all the sensations and feelings encompassed in the present moment. Although mindfulness or creating external awareness is usually more relevant because of the inherent nature of events, both can have their places.

Below, we’ll explain how you can structure breaks for recuperation and free-thinking, or for group-work to encourage reflection on the material just presented. When planning an unplugged event, both of these approaches can work to help make your event more successful. Let’s take a closer look.

Plan breaks for free-thinking

Downtime is vital for our brain’s creative processes to work effectively and is therefore essential in helping us dream up new ideas. If you are planning an event that involves any learning or retention of information, you should consider including extended, structured breaks for some inward reflection. This gives event goers enough time for necessities like bathroom visits and enjoying refreshments, but also to put things on pause for a moment and give their brains a breather. In fact, studies have shown that idle time is a significant factor in having a better memory. However, it also means they’ll be better able to focus on the next part of the event. No more sitting around waiting for it to end!

If you can incorporate an element of nature into these breaks, then the results will amplify. Nature has inherently soothing properties, and it’s something we’re all familiar with. So even if event goers aren’t familiar with the building or many of the people in attendance, they will feel more comfortable in nature’s presence.

Planning an unplugged eventSchedule breaks with purpose

What is a break with purpose? It’s a way to give event-goers an energy boost between the official event sessions, by adding a social or hands-on activity into the break time. Even though you might be covering similar material in the more intensive sessions, a changeup in the delivery of information will help the brain refresh and refocus. In other words, it’s a break that is an integral part of the event which helps to fulfil overall objectives. Ideally, attendees should understand that breaks with purpose are part of the reason they are there.

You can provide breaks from the formality of event with one of these purposeful ideas:

  • Team building – whether instructional like a fun task, or physical like a tournament
  • Networking – you could even make it competitive!
  • Discussions of a designated topic or idea
  • Think outside the box, with an ice cream cart that requires people to get some fresh air, while allowing them to mingle – much like a “water cooler” type situation

Try any of these ideas, and you’ll find it gives attendees a chance to think about the content that has been presented to them and come up with their own relevant insights.

Planning An Unplugged Event: Promote relaxation

When planning an unplugged event, it’s important to remember that more stimulus, doesn’t necessarily mean greater value for attendees. But a better experience does! And to have a better experience, attendees need to get the most out of each part of the event. Event goers will need to be able to focus their attention on the present to connect with the content and other attendees. To make that possible, you should promote a more relaxed environment that isn’t filled with distractions. We suggest looking to the senses to create an environment that is calm and focus-filled in all aspects. That ranges from seating choices to the options for lighting and sound.

Planning an unplugged event: Choose comfortable, collaborative seating

We live in a collaborative age, so event seating choices should reflect that wherever possible. If your event is too large for group seating throughout the main sessions, look for venues that also provide a lounge area that you can use for group activities or event downtime. Try to cluster seating together so that people will naturally form groups. You can use the standard roundtable approach for larger events – this may be a more practical choice. Moreover, it’s one we recommend because it allows for collaboration, with no clear power seats like a rectangular setting.

But if you have space for it, we suggest keeping seating comfortable and informal. Event goers will appreciate a more inviting space and be more inclined to contribute their own ideas to discussions. Chairs in each cluster should face each other to foster the spirit of teamwork. Make sure you choose those with sufficient padding, rather than bare bones plastic, timber or metal seating. Beanbags (possibly the most laid-back of seating choices!) are well worth considering too, depending on your event style. Beanbags are so relaxing and event-goers will appreciate how easily they can move them too. It’s best to avoid dark, serious color choices. Instead, look to light or bright options to spark creativity and add a fun feel to the environment.

Ambient lighting is the way to go

It’s important not to use lighting that is too stimulating if attendees are required to sit and take in information, as is the case in many corporate events. You see, stressed minds don’t receive new information easily, and what they do receive, they struggle to retain. Adding some sensory factors to your event that are conducive to relaxing can greatly improve the value event-goers take away. This may not need to be a consideration for performance-based events that are providing entertainment value. However, it is particularly important for events like quarterly meetings, workshops and conferences.

Talk to your AV company who can suggest the best type of lighting to suit the style of your event. They will consider brightness, lighting types, lighting activity and effects, as well as the most appropriate timing for lighting changes. In fact, if you talk to the experts they likely have some suggestions for creative event lighting ideas that you’ve never considered before.

Audio is crucial to a relaxed mind

The same goes for sound. Music intense enough to distract participants from the event or their own thoughts will undermine the success of the event. Music with lyrics often falls into this category. That’s because people find themselves singing along to the tune, rather than concentrating on what’s in front of them.

However, you shouldn’t go to the other extreme either and enforce complete silence. Particularly when it comes to breaks and event downtime. That’s because studies have found that moderate ambient sound boosts creativity for the majority of people. So, if you’re planning an unplugged event that includes networking, team-building or even quiet reflection time for attendees during breaks, ambient audio could see them put the time to best use.

Sound actually affects us in four ways, whether you’re conscious of the noise or not. Those ways are:

  • Physiologically – bodily rhythms including breathing, heart rate and brainwaves
  • Behaviorally – our actions in relation to the environment
  • Psychologically – moods and emotions
  • Cognitively – thinking processes and level of productivity

If you think about it, using the right audio to create a positive impact on all four of these areas could be the difference between a ho-hum or a spectacularly successful event. That’s why it’s so important to talk to the experts for help making the right audio choices.

Some ideas for ambient sound for your next event that aren’t just music, include:

  • Coffee shop experience sounds – check out Coffivity
  • Sounds of weather, like rain and storms – check out Thunderspace
  • Office hum replications
  • Traffic sounds
  • Train stations noises

Remember – when it comes to choosing the finer details of the event, like seating styles, lighting and sound, you’ll want to make sure they’re on brand. But, as we’ve just shown you – that certainly isn’t the only factor to keep in mind.

Final Thoughts On Planning An Unplugged Event

We get that in the world of event planning, with new incredible technologies becoming available all the time, it can be tempting to try and use them all! But, sometimes, paring things back is what will see the best value for attendees, not to mention the resulting event feedback and overall success. That’s why we’re seeing the trend emerge for planning an unplugged event.

Consider the objectives of the event, and rather than making them the biggest and baddest around, allow some space for mindfulness to create more value. We just covered three ways you can achieve this when planning an unplugged event. Choose what best suits the nature of the event and the best result for your client. As the adage says – less is more, so choose your moments wisely.


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Kristen Cooper

Author Kristen Cooper

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