Meetings take their toll. Stress, anxiety, inactivity, poor nutrition and stale air will at best kill your meeting productivity, at worst it could help shorten your life span. So how can you keep your meetings and your delegates healthy?
One key area where meeting organisers can make a difference is providing nutritious food and drink. This has the benefit of not only encouraging healthier eating by your staff but you can also make an immediate difference by boosting energy levels through considering menu choices (see pages 62 and 63.)
But it’s not just food that can be handled differently. Many aspects of meeting and conference programmes can be easily adapted to encourage healthier practices, sharpen concentration, improve energy levels and better still, they can save you money.
Take transport, for example. How long do your delegates sit in coaches waiting for transfers between hotels, conference venues and restaurants? Better planning can allow you to choose your key venues within a reasonable walking distance of each other.
You can even turn these strolls into part of your programme by using local guides to point out places of natural or historical interest en route. Delegates often moan that they never get to see the destinations outside the conference hall or the banquet room. This is the perfect solution.
Special transport can always be arranged for those who may have health or mobility issues that prevent them from enjoying these simple walks.
Get to know the conference venue and find out if there are open-air terraces or balconies where coffee breaks can be taken, weather permitting. This will clear the lungs of the air-conditioned, recycled vapours that your delegates have been breathing in for hours and give them a chance to clear their heads; simple and productive.
Ironically, these days it’s often smokers, banned from smoking indoors, who seek out every nook and cranny of fresh air for their furtive puffs. Aside from the health issues, huddled groups of smokers can be very disruptive of broader group dynamics, so find some alternatives; for example, have some corporate-branded squeezeballs available to keep fidgety smokers off the nicotine and deal with the stress.
An increasingly popular addition to conference programmes is to include some massage or spa element to fill the break times. This might be a simple foot-rub by a reflexologist or a head and neck massage from a therapist. Stress and tension don’t just affect health, they make delegates lose focus and deliver less than their best. Fit a stress-buster element into your conference agenda.
Choosing the right hotel as a venue or simply for accommodation can make a huge difference. Speak to the food and beverage director to ensure you have healthy menus, but speak to the fitness centre manager too.
Perhaps you could start the day with a light warm-up led by the fitness centre team, or give vouchers to your delegates to use in the gym or even set up a reward system for those who make the most visits during the conference period.
There are other ways to encourage delegate vitality by bringing in some local flavour. Why not include a fun tai chi break in your Hong Kong conference programme, or a short yoga session for your corporate meeting in Mumbai? You can encourage delegates to dress down for particular sessions, wear loose-fitting clothes that ease circulation and that they can comfortably move about in. This also helps to create a more relaxed atmosphere.
It’s also worth remembering the toll that international travel can take on delegates arriving from different climates and time zones. Ensure that they have enough time to unwind, especially if they are one of the keynote speakers. The Shangri-La Beijing’s Chi Spa has a three-hour treatment called Travellers Retreat, specially designed to revitalise tired arrivals. Most hotel spas will offer similar packages or other services such as welcome herbal bath.
Meetings don’t have to be unhealthy – look after your delegates and they will be more focused, productive and maybe even thankful.
For those seeking a gastronomic adventure, attending corporate events – regardless of whether these are business meetings or corporate incentive programmes – is an opportunity to tantalise the palate with the best cuisine in town. A nagging concern, always pushed to the back of the mind, is that all these rich foods will expand your waistline and will wreak havoc on the cardiovascular system.
Meeting and corporate event delegates who are on a diet because of existing medical problems or who have simply joined the army of people embracing the healthier lifestyle, are often left with little to eat in spite a full buffet or a choice of set menus.
But hope is on the horizon.
Events planners and conference organisers are aware of this issue and are consciously adding items on the menus that health-conscious and vegetarian guests can dig their knife and fork into.
Shangri-La’s Healthy Performance menus
The challenge is proving that a particular dish is as “healthy” as it is claimed to be.
“It is very hard to say that you have a healthy programme if you do not have a nutritionist, because everything becomes questionable. You don’t have a structure to your system. How can you justify that a dish is healthy? You have to be very professional about this, because if you say that a dish is low on sodium, a person with a heart problem will likely eat that. So you cannot play around and mislead the customer,” Jean Michel Offe, group director of food beverage of the Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts.
The hotel group is one of the first in the world to introduce healthy menus into their meetings packages. Called “Signature Performance” menus, these are now being served in 20 Shangri-La hotels and resorts in Manila, Singapore, Sydney, Hong Kong and Bangkok among others and will be introduced throughout the rest of the group by year-end.
According to Offe, six Shangri-La chefs from different cities have developed about 80 healthy dishes ranging from appetisers, main dishes to desserts.
The western-style “Healthy Performance” menus have four categories: “Mindfuel” for food that provide nutrients for improved concentration and increased energy levels; “Jetlag” for dishes to help reduce insomnia, fatigue and increase vitality; “ActiveYou” for dishes that provide optimal nutrition for tissue maintenance and muscle repair for sports and fitness enthusiasts; and “ChiBalance” for dishes that restore balance and harmony to the mind and body.
“All these dishes have been sent to a registered dietician who analysed and calculated their nutritional value. So we can always tell the customer – should they ask – the exact sugar and salt content of each dish,” he says.
Dr Chi Wing Wong, head of the food and dietetic department at Hong Kong Adventist Hospital, has helped develop and categorise the recipes. He is now working closely with the Shangri-La chefs of the 20 properties that have incorporated these healthy menus into their meeting packages.
“Several times they have asked about substituting one ingredient with another. The challenge is that the recipe has already been analysed and the portion has been set. Any changes would affect the dish’s health and nutritional value. I am more than happy to analyse modified recipes, but we encourage chefs to keep to the methodology and portion of the original recipes,” Dr Wong says.
The recipes and other information for all “Signature Performance” dishes are posted on the hotel group’s intranet. This allows chefs to put together a range of set menus for the hotel’s healthy meeting packages. The intranet also serves as an online forum between Dr Wong and the Shangri-La chefs who have questions about the recipes. All Q&As are kept online in anticipation of similar questions in the future, particularly when these healthy meals are eventually introduced to the a la carte menus of the hotel group’s dining outlets.
TRIA’s balanced cuisine
For TRIA Integrative Wellness, a US$15.4-million, five-star health and wellness facility in Bangkok, the healthy mindset is part of the company’s DNA, making it easier for naturopath Tina Horrell to work with the chef at the facility’s four F&B outlets to come up with healthy menus.
“When the chef creates new dishes, we sit together with all department heads to decide whether we like them or not. And, if we do, we will add the new recipes on the menu.
“The chef will write down the ingredients for me to analyse the nutritional value of the ingredients,” says Horrell, a graduate of the Melbourne College of Natural Medicine in Clinical Nutrition, Naturopathy, Homeopathy and Remedial Massage. As a naturopath at TRIA, she is part of a team of 15 doctors, therapists and wellness professionals, who all collaborate in helping clients achieve optimum health by giving advice on clean living and lifestyle.
While largely known as a wellness facility, TRIA is an emerging venue for corporate meetings and incentive programmes.
Companies booking a meeting package in TRIA typically include in their programme one or two treatments for their delegates. Wellness programmes built around weight management and detoxification are tremendously popular.
According to Horrell, the food at TRIA plays a major role in helping delegates complete their programmes.
TRIA menus at its ONE and True restaurants feature lean meats, vegetarian raw foods, fresh fruit juice drinks, yeast-free breads and soy-based dishes.
“It is a balanced cuisine where we ensure that all means are balance in terms of carbohydrates and proteins and as full of nutrients as possible. Our food is low on sugar, low on salt and low on fat. We use good fat – essential fat – such as olive oil. And we use organic products where we can.”
Debunking the myth
In their quest for the healthy menu, event organisers need not fear that they will end up serving delegates unappetising fare.
Both Offe and Horrell debunk the misconception that healthy meals are mostly bland and tasteless.
“For us, we try to be as creative as possible. Dr Wong and our chefs have done well in creating nutritious meals without compromising taste. They have introduced a lot of variety too. You will be surprised to know that Shangri-La’s Healthy Performance menus include some meat dishes. At the end of the day, we want our meetings guests to enjoy their meal,” Offe says.
Horrell notes: “We are raising people’s awareness of what a healthy diet is. It is really up to us to produce yummy dishes – without using all the additives.”
Meanwhile, healthy meals do not have to be more expensive than standard food. Shangri-La’s meetings clients do not have to pay a premium for selecting a healthy menu for their delegates.
“It is part of our corporate social responsibility. We want everybody to eat healthy food, so it should not be more expensive than our regular food because we use almost the same, basic ingredients. We make the same amount of money on our healthy menus – not more, not less,” Offe says.
Horrell agrees that eating healthily does not have to cost much. And this applies even to food that has been prepared using organic produce.
“Since you get more nutritional value on organic food, you can consume less of it. And you just have to think that it is an investment for good health. It is more expensive to get sick,” Horrell notes. N
• If possible, choose a meeting venue within walking distance of most hotels where your participants are staying and similarly for evening entertainment and shopping. Provide maps of the area showing good walking routes.
• Consider a more casual dress code for certain meetings, this creates a more informal, less stressful atmosphere.
• Organise an early morning physical activity, such as a tai chi demonstration. Alternatively, you could arrange a low-impact fitness class in a hotel gym.
• Encourage participants to take the stairs. Place signs near elevators to direct people to where they are.
• Choose a hotel that has good sports facilities such as a gym or a swimming pool. Include information about these facilities in materials you send to participants.
• Bring in a team of massage therapists during breaks to work on delegates’ tired muscles and reinvigorate their circulation.
• Schedule brief activity breaks in the morning and the afternoon. People will be better able to pay attention to the rest of the meeting.
• Include a few rounds of golf in your delegate programme.
Source: New York State Department of Health
Goodbye to back pain
Mix asked Claire Dickson and Fanny Leung, fitness class instructor and physiotherapy manager respectively at Hong Kong’s Matilda International Hospital, for some tips on how to stay fit while attending corporate meetings and events.
People attending business events and corporate meetings can keep neck and back pains at bay by simply standing and sitting up straight. It is time to remember childhood lessons on correct posture given by our parents and elementary-school teachers.
When the natural physiological alignment of your spine is lost, tension in your shoulders and back muscles may result, leading to various neck and back problems.
• Relax shoulders and bring your chin in slightly. Imagine there is a string pulling your head up so you feel an elongation of your body.
• Gently pull up and in with lower abdominal muscles. Keep breathing normally.
• Tighten your buttock muscles so that you feel that you are pointing your tailbone towards the floor.
Correct Sitting Position
Sitting is often the greatest cause of back pain. When sitting in a relaxed position, support your lower back.
• Remove the low back support every half hour for five minutes to give your lower back a change of position. Your head should be positioned so that your ear is in line with your shoulder and your chin is parallel with the floor.
• Avoid leaning to one side when you are sitting, and avoid overstuffed furniture, as it does not offer adequate support.
• When working at a desk, your chair should be pulled close to the desk. An office chair with short armrests will allow this. Office chairs should also have adjustable height, backrests and seats. The backrest spring should be adjusted so that the backrest moves with you. A seat that tilts forward is a particularly useful feature.
• Use a swivel chair to enable you to work without twisting your back. Place objects such as adding machines and computers as close to you as possible to minimise the amount of twisting and turning you need to do. When you lean forward at your desk, bend forward at the hips instead of rounding your lower back. This will allow you to keep your back straight and in good alignment.
Remember, correct posture prevents back pain that comes from prolong standing and sitting.
Not only does correct posture help you feel good, it also makes you look good.