• Toss out traditional agendas and room setups to reach meeting goals faster

    FROM THE Spring 2016 ISSUE

If your're trying to foster creative problem-solving and discussion during your next event, consider planning an “unmeeting.”

“Unmeetings,” or participant-driven events that reject strict agendas and lecture-style sessions in favor of group collaboration and problem-solving, are gaining steam as companies and planners realize their potential.

Jeff Donahoe, director of sales and marketing at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa in San Antonio, sees “unmeetings” as a major meeting trend for 2016. The main difference between traditional meetings and an “unmeeting,” Donahoe says, is the “institutional feel.”

“For an ‘unmeeting,’ the idea of a rigid and structured agenda has been thrown out the window,” Donahoe says. “Planners are looking for a more comfortable environment that’s conducive to free-flowing ideas and are becoming more creative with room setups and furniture.”

Instead of sitting in conference rooms and listening to speakers, attendees at an “unmeeting” connect and discuss ideas in a more relaxed setting. At an “unmeeting,” attendees might take 30 minutes to design their own agenda for the event. During breakout sessions, attendees might head to an outdoor patio or lawn to solve a challenge or brainstorm together.

Instead of a classroom-style room setup, Donahoe has seen planners use a variety of tables, couches, bean bag chairs, yoga mats, exercise balls and bar stools to create a more comfortable and collaborative atmosphere indoors.

Donahoe says he realizes doing something unconventional can be a risk, especially in a corporate environment. However, in a more collaborative setting, attendees can solve problems, build team morale and achieve objectives and solutions faster, he says.

“The attendees are really going to praise the planner for doing something different, and the organization is going to praise the planner because the goals of the meeting will be met much faster than in a traditional format,” he says.

One of the most popular “unmeeting” spaces at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa is the resort’s Aunt Mary’s Porch, a deck that comes off the main lobby. The deck centers on a massive oak tree more than 200 years old, surrounded by wooden rocking chairs.

“We see small groups sitting in rocking chairs underneath the oak tree, working on a challenge, discussing the meeting or trying to generate ideas,” Donahoe says. “It’s one of the most popular spaces we have.”

Another popular “unmeeting” space is a cleared oak grove off the main pool area, called Henry’s Hollow. The area, which offers picnic tables, hammocks and fire pits, has traditionally just been used as a cocktail or dining area.

“People gravitate toward this space for a nontraditional meeting space because it connects the attendee to nature,” Donahoe says.

Besides nontraditional room setups and furniture, Donahoe says a key “unmeeting” element is bringing chefs and culinary professionals out of the kitchen and in front of attendees.

“Today, everyone is a foodie,” Donahoe says. “They love it when they see chefs come out and interact with the group. Attendees want to experience the local destination, and the more a meeting planner can bring that out in their program, the more engaged the attendees will be.”

Ready to plan an “unmeeting?” Donahoe suggests relying on the expertise of your vendors to guide you.

“Planners don’t have to feel like they are creating this meeting flow on their own,” Donahoe says. “They can utilize vendors’ expertise to pull this off really well.”

Thinking outside the box also helps get attendees excited about the next event. “Normally, attendees aren’t too excited about meetings,” Donahoe says. “‘Unmeetings’ help attendees look forward to the next event.”

The CDC defines close contact as within six feet or less, for 15 minutes or more with someone who tests positive for COVID-19. At gatherings of many kinds, contact tracing is used to trace the people that someone has come into contact with, before they learn that they have tested positive. This allows the people that the sick person came into contact with to be aware of the situation, and to make health-informed choices. 


In 2020, Houston First Corp. (HFC) reported that the city was slated to host 252 meetings and 611,000 room nights. By March 14, the Bayou City had already hosted 115 conventions and 137,400 room nights. Then the pandemic hit, and meetings and events across the country came to a screeching halt.

We asked Michael Heckman, acting president and CEO of Houston First Corp. (HFC) how the health crisis has influenced the organization’s business model moving forward.


Chances are, you won’t know you’re living through history until it’s too late. It’s already happening. A chain reaction has been set in motion and the ground has begun to slide beneath your feet.

This past year has been a whirlwind to say the least. As a global pandemic sent the world reeling, planners were left grasping for footholds as the event industry was brought to a standstill, and many of the most fundamental elements of live meetings and events were cast in a new light.