Cutting Empty Calories at Meetings

You've just received some important information—followed by a cookie break. Where are you? At a meeting, that's where. The only time this occurs is at meetings of all types, from PTA meetings to board meetings. But from all medical and physical perspectives, the combination is not only unhealthy, but also detrimental to our retention ability.

Professional meeting planners spend hours coming up with new ways to create coffee and cookie breaks, but that might not be the best strategy for ensuring a productive meeting. Here are some ideas on how to use breaks to put brains and bodies into motion at your next meeting.

1. Exercise. Whenever this word comes up, people get a funny look, worried that someone will suggest communal stretching, a big turnoff. One good way to incorporate exercise in any long meeting is to schedule a "clear the air" break and have a five-minute walk around the park, or even to a local coffee shop where you treat everyone to a coffee. The point is to get oxygen to the brain and muscles.

2. Really "do" lunch. Lunch can be much more than sitting at a round table with people you don't know, forced to talk about the weather. What about making lunch an interactive cooking class? This takes a little more forethought, and it needs to be for the right group. But our company has planned meetings where we have set up a variety of banquet tables throughout the room filled with ingredients for a simple menu and a couple of tabletop burners. Teams are assigned to handle the cooking and the preparation—and a cook from the hotel or convention site is there at each table to help attendees make the meal. The interaction is actually the main course. Food becomes not something to consume but a medium that brings people together. Plus they burn calories simply by cooking their own meal.

3. Tea has been getting some great press lately. Black or green, it's proven to be good for us. Impressive Events has set up tea bars at meetings with great success. There are now beautiful, individual all-glass tea infusers available, and most caterers can get them for you. They can be set up on a multi-tiered buffet with bowls of loose tea beautifully labeled to entice attendees (you can describe the therapeutic value of each tea—for instance, "Chamomile calms the nerves"). Or, if you have a big crowd and can't have individual teapots, have the tea infusers all ready to go before the break, labeled with which type of tea they contain. Another fun idea: Do a Mad Hatter theme with the tea break.

Simone Mets is co-owner of Impressive Events, a national event planning and management firm with offices in Princeton and Montclair, NJ. To contact her, visit or call (732) 438-9686.