Conference planning- don't forget to add a dash of wellness!

posted on Monday, February 11, 2013

Remember the last time you attended a conference? How about an out-of-town conference? Begin with early morning breakfast receptions followed by back to back to back seminars and committee meetings during the day…dinners or other scheduled social activity at night, and little room for fitness. Sound familiar? One Iowa organization received outstanding reviews from their conference members by including wellness in their conference plan.

Iowa State Association of Counties’ (ISAC) annual meeting is typically held in a hotel conference center where sleeping, eating, and meeting take place under one roof. In 2012 the 800+ member meeting was held in a convention center- about a fifteen minute walk from the headquarters hotel. “Although it’s a wonderful facility with easy access via skywalk, we were concerned that many of our members would find the walking to be a major issue,” says Rachel Bicego, Marketing and Communications Coordinator for ISAC. “Our staff came up with the idea to make the walking into positive instead of a negative.” The Steps to Wellness program challenged participants to track their steps using pedometers (supplied at registration) during the conference for a chance to win prizes – including free registration to next year’s conference.

By making the 15 minute walking-commute a wellness activity and somewhat of a competition, the team set off to develop engagement. Bicego reports, “we began by marketing the program in advance of conference registration by sending program instructions, skywalk maps and reminders to bring their walking shoes. By the time the actual conference began most of our members knew what the pedometers were for and they couldn’t wait to get started.”

The pedometer, instructions and a log sheet tucked in with registration materials nudged participants into the program. Throughout the conference members were encouraged to wear their pedometers and turn in their steps before leaving for the day. The team also set up a help desk, staffed throughout the conference, for members with questions or requiring help with pedometers.

The program was very well received. “Throughout the conference it became a talking point amongst the attendees. You’d see people comparing and talking about their steps everywhere you turned,” says Bicego. “I think many members couldn’t believe just how many steps they actually took during the day, and felt very accomplished.”

Members commented on what a great, motivating and fun program it was. One shared her story with the ISAC staff. Initially very concerned about all of the walking, this attendee confided that she’d been struggling to lose weight and get into a regular exercise routine to improve her health. Wearing the pedometer really got her up and walking, and thanks to the Steps to Wellness challenge, she committed to wearing the pedometer and challenging herself at home.

131 members turned in their steps logging 1,874,184 steps, equivalent to 9,371 miles (based on a 2,000 steps per mile average). That’s an average of 14,307 steps per participant or around 7.2 miles. The furthest walker had 40,014 steps, about 20 miles.

ISAC feels so good about the results they plan to expand wellness in future conference planning by offering healthier food and beverage options and possibly hosting a conference wide run/walk.

What are you doing to incorporate wellness in your next conference?