Why Aren’t Meeting Breaks More Fun?

(Photo Credit: Reiko Renee Tate)

Here’s how this blog came to be, and came to be the inaugural blog for Friday With Joan*: I saw this Washington Post article about the global dominance of Oreos and was fascinated. It caused me to make a puzzled face and wonder why I’d never (ever—in 40 some years!) seen Oreos on break tables at meetings or conferences, even at IACC conference centers!

That lead to some thinking and research about Oreos (do a search; the supply of links is endless!) and breaks at meetings; an interview with Patti Shock, hospitality F&B guru, an Oreo tasting for neighbors; and more thinking about why breaks are neither real breaks nor do they provide anything fun that could, in fact, be a great icebreaker!

Really? Can you eat or watch someone eating an Oreo and not wonder why they are eating it “that” way, which is clearly either different than what you do or the same?

Years ago, I wrote in another industry publication about why we scheduled at most 15-minute versus 30- or 45-minute breaks. Oh, I knew the answer then and do now; we want to cram the agenda with content, forgetting that one of the main reasons people attend meetings is to learn from peers, which we sometimes call “networking,” but we don’t give people adequate and appropriate time to do so.

I still and will forever question how a speaker/facilitator of learning, audience member or entire audience can stop what they are doing, gather their stuff, leave a room (because it’s needed for the next session), find and use a restroom, refresh with a nosh, talk with colleagues about what was learned, find the next session, and sit down again … in 15 minutes! Worse, today, no one looks up much—their noses, at breaks and at other times, are bent into their electronic devices rather than having a conversation.

And that nosh? I remember when Danish were cut in half to save money! In a lengthy discussion in ASAE’s Collaborate (for ASAE members and in this case, those in the meetings industry), it seems association planners are balking about paying hotels for coffee for breaks and are instead purchasing Starbucks—and they were specific—cards to give to participants to use at outlets versus providing any beverages or food at breaks. Talk about more time needed for people to get to the outlet and back to the meeting. Penny wise and pound foolish? The results aren’t in.

Jeff Hurt, Adrian Segar and I have written lots about meeting design. Andrea Sullivan—who will probably gasp at the idea of Oreos versus a nice healthy break snack—talks in this Meetings Today article about the need for real breaks. And I am pretty sure we’d never have had Harrison Owen coin the term “Open Space” had we had short breaks and electronic devices in 1985!

But I deviate slightly from the topic of Oreos. When I asked a director of catering for a major convention hotel in D.C. why they didn’t serve Oreos, he said … he wasn’t really sure! He did comment that the new DC Trump Hotel would likely not serve them.

(Will that cause those who might have wanted to meet at a Trump hotel to boycott because there are no Oreos?! See my previous blog for reference.)

Here’s what I think we need to do at meetings, conventions and conferences:

  1. Put more white space in the agenda and hold that space as if it were sacred. Don’t agree to adding “just one more session” if it takes time away from breaks.

  2. Use that white space for breaks for refreshments, quiet time, thinking, discussing what we learned with others, and of course, biological and business functions.

  3. Serve foods that are healthy and that are fun. Oreos can be one of the choices because they are fun, create conversation and, in small packages, are portable for later.

Even if you’re not on board with the idea of serving Oreos during your next meeting break, there’s lots more that can be done to make the overall experience more interactive and enjoyable. Tell us your ideas and practices to create better breaks in the comments below, or even share your meeting break wish list!

Oh, and in case you missed them above, here are links to my related content and research:

*Friday With Joan will be accessible and sent the first Friday of each month.

It is an opportunity for us to engage in discussions about serious issues and some that are lighter, like this inaugural topic. And while this is lighter—than say contracts or ethics or risk—it is relevant. I promise to try to make all the blogs relevant to those in our industry and the work we do and the outcomes of what we do.

Why start the newsletter series with a lighter topic? Two reasons: First, it's the start of the "school year" and that should always be fun; Secondly, from years (23) of engagement in online communities, more than 15 years moderating virtual groups, and as a facilitator of group process, I know that people engage more with comfortable, familiar topics and ones especially in which they know (or hope) they won’t be judged for their experience or opinion.

This will do it! As always you can weigh in or email me at FridaywithJoan@aol.com with comments you want posted as an anonylister (c) Eli Gorin. I promise to keep those notes confidential. Also if you haven't already done so, click here to subscribe to Friday With Joan.

Like all my blogs and additional content, the views expressed are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

Posted by Joan L. Eisenstodt

Follow Joan on Twitter: @joaneisenstodt

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