￼Call it meeting fatigue; most human brains tend to click over to autopilot after a few days of back-to-back meetings. But there’s a good reset button, and it’s always handy. To push it, just get the participants standing up and moving around. And a dose of fresh air doesn’t hurt, either.
The data bears this strategy out. In the era of social media and smartphones, the attention span of a human has dropped by 50 percent—down to a mere eight seconds—since 2000, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. That’s one second less than the attention span of a goldfish!
Meeting planners have their work cut out for them, but science is on their side. A 2013 study from researchers at University of Granada in Spain found that more physically active people had longer attention spans and more focus when it came to mental tasks.
“What people appreciate the most is the break from the meeting room,” says CBST Adventures Sales Manager Mark Hojegian. “Companies come out for two to five days. Their agendas are jam-packed. Even the meals are centered around networking.”
Hojegian says that his company typically gets a group for a half-day, and he hears the same feedback time and time again: “It was just so good to get out. We’re in Colorado, and we don’t even have a chance to see it because we’re in this room the whole time.”
Lakewood-based CBST Adventures has been in the business of group activities for more than 20 years. The company works with groups of 20 to in excess of 1,000 people and organizes more than 100 events every year— half in Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs and the other half in ski towns. “We’re all over the place,” he says. “Every activity is different, every town is different.”
CBST now offers a catalog of more than 50 team-building activities that range from scavenger hunts on ski slopes to technology- driven road rallies. “We do a lot of GPS- and tablet-based adventure races,” says Hojegian. Such events can accommodate several hun- dred participants.
Integrating Philanthropy and Creativity
One recent CBST event included a charity bike-building event in Denver for Accuvant, a Denver-based information security firm. Employees broke into teams and built 140 bikes for three Denver children’s charities. After the bikes were assembled, the teams competed in a few offbeat events such as who can ride the slowest.
Kellie Kahn, marketing programs coordina- tor for Accuvant, says the February event was “a nice break” for the 700 attendees at the com- pany’s annual sales kickoff event for the year. Bike-building took place on Tuesday afternoon during a Sunday-to-Thursday schedule. “People were excited to get out of the sessions,” says Kahn. “We’re sitting in meeting rooms for days.”
It was also the first sales conference after Accuvant merged with Overland Park, Kansas- based FishNet Security, so it served as a nice icebreaker. “It was just a good opportunity to meet people in an informal setting,” she says.
But it wasn’t just a meet, greet and team- build, it was also about philanthropy. “We want- ed to spend our money in a good place—not just team-building but giving back to the commu- nity,” says Kahn. Kids from the bike recipients— Denver Kids Inc., cityWILD and Boys & Girls Clubs of Denver—were present at the event.
Kahn credits CBST for the event’s success. “It’s not an easy task to have 700 people build 140 bikes in a couple of hours,” she says. “We were very pleased.”
For a daylong event with Broomfield-based Horizon Organic Dairy, CBST started indoors with a game that introduced a new brand to about 50 attendees. “We decided to bring the activity right into the content,” says Rochelle Schwartz, executive assistant at Horizon and planner of the February event.
Seven teams competed, making sculptures out of Horizon’s new children’s snacks. “People just went crazy,” says Schwartz, describing macaroni mosaics held together with peanut butter for glue, a farm scene with cow crackers and broccoli trees, and a house with a cheese roof. “The creativity that came out of people that don’t have creative jobs was awesome.”
The food sculpting led into other activities that culminated in an ice-sculpting event for happy hour, with each team carving one of the letters in Horizon. “It turned out to be such a spectacle,” says Schwartz.
In 2014, CBST helped Horizon throw a wacky Winter Olympics event at a park in Avon that included hockey, curling, tubing and playing in the powder. “Nobody complains about roll- ing around in the snow,” Schwartz observes.
Beyond playing in the snow, several of Colorado’s other favorite recreational activities are great for meeting and event groups.
Joe Greiner, owner of Wilderness Aware Rafting, located near the Arkansas River in Johnson Village, says rafting’s cooperative nature makes it a great fit for groups of two to 250 people. “You’re part of the crew,” he explains. “Everyone has a hand in the success of the trip. The experience and the camarade- rie that comes out of it is much different than a shared sightseeing experience.”
On the Arkansas, the maximum pod size is 10 boats (holding a total of about 70 people) that need to stay 100 yards apart. For larger groups, he advises staggering the launch times so 70 or less depart every half- hour. Wilderness Aware’s corporate customers include Ball Aerospace and Hewlett-Packard.
There are numerous whitewater hot spots in the high country, including several within a day-trip drive of Denver. Browns Canyon National Monument on the Arkansas (right in Wilderness Aware’s backyard), Idaho Springs, and Vail are all within 125 miles of the city.
Another strategy to get a group into the great outdoors is booking meeting space in a destination that comes with built-in activi- ties, namely ski resorts and guest ranches. “It’s about getting people out of their com- fort zone and working together as a team,” says Mark Weaver, sales and reservations manager at High Lonesome Ranch in De Beque on the Western Slope. “The exciting thing is watching their journeys as they’re doing new stuff.”
Companies like Stihl, Baker Hughes and Roche Pharmaceuticals have used the ranch for executive retreats. Getting out into Colorado’s wilderness is a great catalyst for thinking outside the box, says Weaver. “It’s amazing the impact it has on them,” he observes. “It really strikes an emotional chord.”
Weaver says the ranch’s “sweet spot” is small groups of 10 to 20 people. That allows a custom slate of activities—everything from saddling and riding a horse to shooting clay pigeons to fly-fishing—so teams can compete against one another.
Dan Burak organizes an annual three-day getaway at Lost Valley Ranch near Deckers for a group of 60 for Colorado’s All Ivy League Plus group in April. “We actually take over the whole ranch,” says Burak. “That makes all the difference in the world because you can make your own rules and set your own agenda.”
Attendees ride horses, shoot, fish and square dance on Saturday night. “It’s wonder- fully self-contained,” says Burak. “You don’t have to go anywhere for any activities.”
Some ranches are available mainly for groups during the fall-to-spring offseason when the wranglers have moseyed away; thus, it’s strictly bring-your-own activities. This is a nice fit for meeting-intensive events that put a premium on peace and quiet. Snowshoeing and hiking excursions can be planned for time off.
For other activities such as rock climbing, you may have to transport the group to a location. San Juan Mountain Guides regularly takes groups out from Durango and Ouray in south- western Colorado on guided climbs and also leads skiing and other mountain-oriented trips.
Another option that melds volunteerism with team-building and the outdoors is trail building with groups like the Colorado Trail Foundation and Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado. The former has one- to eight- day trail crew events, and the latter offers a Stewardship with a Team (SWAT) program for groups of 20 or more that can be one-time or ongoing.
In the state’s larger cities, there are plenty of ways to get active outside as well. Most of them have multiple walking tour operators. This is one of the easiest and best ways to get a group of people with varying physical conditions out and about and break up the day. Historic Denver, the LoDo District and Walk2Connect offer walking tours downtown and other areas of the city; Aspen Walking Tours is a good option in the ski town of the same name.
Or you can get a little wild and crazy if you’ve got the time and space. CBST recently produced a summer event for Denver-based startup Craftsy in City Park with tricycles and inflatable, human-sized hamster balls.
Larger groups are trickier. The annual conference for the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN) brings together about 4,000 attendees and 500 exhibitors. Wherever the city, AORN organizes an hour-long Zumba class at a hotel for conference- goers (it usually attracts more than 100 people), and a fun run attracts more than 300 registrants a year. A donation to enter the race supports the AORN Foundation and also gets the racer a T-shirt.
For AORN’s March 2015 annual conference in Denver, AXS Group filled this role and arranged everything from city permits to water stations. “What we do is coordinate everything,” says AXS Partner Nicole Marsh, CMP, DMCP. “They come into the destination, and we make it happen.”
Marsh says the 5K run is a natural choice. “I think getting outside is just so important,” she explains. “It keeps the mind working and the fresh air just does wonders.”
An organized run “gets them out of the convention center, and they get to see the city and also get some exercise,” she adds. The Cherry Creek Trail is conveniently located next to the Colorado Convention Center and downtown Denver, but City Park and the area around Sports Authority Field at Mile High can be a better fit for larger groups or busy days, Marsh adds.
AXS regularly matches groups with activities in Denver and other destinations in Colorado, including urban walking tours, hikes, bicycling, Jeep tours and yoga sessions. The company often works with a nurse who leads meeting-goers in “health breaks” every couple hours. “Each one is a little different,” says Marsh.
Groups for hikes and other physically demanding activities are best capped at 20 participants, and many outdoor activities are best for groups of fewer than 10, she suggests.
But when an event has hundreds or even thousands of attendees, it’s hard to bring the whole horde on one hike, climb or ski slope. Beginners will want green runs as more hardcore types crave black diamonds.
With larger groups, say a bus of 50 hikers heading to Red Rocks, Mount Falcon or Chautauqua Park, “We’ll break them down by activity level,” says Marsh. “We really try to cater to what the attendees want and their ability levels. Some want a little more and some want a little less. The thing I would recommend is offering something for all activity levels.”
Participation is key because it’s ultimately all about keeping meeting-goers engaged. Schwartz says activities offer an instant attitude adjustment, especially after intense, day- long meetings. “On day two, people are tired,” she says. Doing something different recharges the “brightness in their eyes.”
Making sculptures from food and ice proved the perfect antidote to burnout. “People told me, ‘I got so much energy from the creativity of the activity,’” Schwartz adds.
Take a page from her book, and get people out of their chairs and moving around. There’s a big payoff: Active bodies mean more focused minds. Too much work makes Jack more dis- tracted than a goldfish.