Tips on how planners can maintain their energy levels and stay healthy while on the road managing on-site events, trade shows and conferences. By Sandra Eagle, September/October 2008
Staying fit and focused during an on-site programme can be a tricky balancing act for a planner who needs to stay cool, calm and collected through any emergency (real or imagined). Just keeping energy levels up to deal with the day-to-day execution of a conference, trade show or annual meeting can be a tough slog. At the start of the busy fall season, we asked a few meeting planners to share their secrets for staying fit and healthy while they’re on the road.
EATING AND DRINKING
Leila Weller, Toronto-based associate director of national events for Bell Canada, says her company recently hired a dietitian to talk with event planners on how to balance their hectic lifestyle with healthy eating.
On the road, Weller travels with a container of almonds, rye crackers and meal-replacement bars. One month before an event, she makes a concerted effort to drink three litres of water every day. On-site, she schedules meetings with banquet managers around breakfast or lunch time so that she is guaranteed to eat something.
Terri Stinger, marketing manager, events and sponsorships for RBC Insurance Services Inc., based in Mississauga, Ont., says “If I am staying anywhere for more than a day or two, I make a point of buying fresh fruit to keep in my room for a late night or very early morning energy boost.
As a meeting planner, you make sure everyone else has eaten a wonderful meal, but sometimes you don’t get a chance to eat properly yourself.”
“Staying healthy on the road is very tough indeed,” says Sandra Wood, CMP, annual meeting manager with the Canadian Medical Association, based in Ottawa. “On our longer events [over a week on the road], we arrange to have comfort food in our on-site office like macaroni and cheese, tomato soup, Rice Krispie squares and oatmeal for breakfast. I try to eat the same type of meals I eat at home, and try not to get tempted by eggs Benedict too often.”
Kathryn Handford, event director with the Canada Running Series, based in Toronto, says she “drinks more water and I don’t overindulge in coffee or alcohol. At dinner, I sip slower, to prevent clients from ordering me another drink, and I quietly indicate to the server not to refill my glass.” She also eats lighter meals and tries to keep yogurt and fruit in her hotel room.
As we all know, but often don’t practice, Stinger stresses that “sufficient sleep is critical.” But she says, “With so many details flying around in our brains, how can you find the peace and tranquility to get a good night’s rest?” Her answer: “I make sure I have my checklists with me to help calm any anxieties. The more prepared you are up front, the easier it is to cope with on-site surprises.” Paul Butler, president of Planit WorldWide Corporation, based in Mississauga, Ont., says he tries to get enough rest at night. “Remember, you are ‘on’ from early morning until after the dinner hour.”
Most of the planners we talked to say they try to get in some exercise time at the hotel gym. One planner who is dedicated to workout time is Jacqueline Acomb, programme manager at Softchoice, for Carlson Wagonlit Travel. “I run or walk outside, so I can get a workout and see the city I’m in at the same time. Some properties, like the Westin, have running routes pre-printed on small cards that you can get from the concierge, so you have a route already mapped out. They even have a running concierge who actually takes people out on runs.” Acomb says the Fairmont Hamilton Princess will loan you workout clothes, socks and shoes, if you call ahead, so you don’t even have to pack cumbersome gear.
The concrete floor is a killer for planners who sometimes spend more than 12 hours a day on their feet, crisscrossing a large show. Gary Johnson, at PlannerPlus Events, in Aurora, Ont., says he wears different sets of shoes over the course of an event. The different pressure points on a change of footwear helps to keep feet feeling fresh.
Katherine Wright, president of the Wright Solution, based in St. Catharines, Ont., says she tries to find some downtime at least once a day. “Just 15 minutes of quiet time works wonders,” but she adds an important caveat, “don’t do e-mail, don’t speak to anyone, don’t read – just relax.” Stinger says if she has some down time, she will try to do something fun. “When I’m in Vancouver, I try to walk to the Aquarium and have lunch watching the whales. It totally invigorates me. And seeing the reaction of small children seeing those creatures is always so amusing. Everyone needs to laugh more.”
Robin Paisley, director of events at our own Meetings & Incentive Travel, swears by her stash of Airborne tablets. This immune-boosting supplement was developed by a teacher to combat classroom germs. At the first sign of fatigue, Paisley drinks a glass of water containing the dissolved orange-flavoured tablets. Since the tablets are only available in the U.S., she depends on buddies south of the border to bring her a new supply when she runs low. To combat dry hotel rooms, she runs a hot bath just before she goes to bed and leaves the bathroom door open. The added burst of moisture, she says, keeps her throat and eyes from drying out.
As a final bit of advice, Paul Butler recommends, “if at all possible, when you’re on a programme, try to take people you really get along with; it makes the trip more enjoyable for both the travel staff and the clients.”
TOP FIVE TIPS
- Try to arrive a couple of days earlier to your event city to acclimatize and gear-up on your own time without being rushed.
- Wash you hands — A lot! Make sure you’ve got Vitamin C and D and drink plenty of water.
- Eat smaller meals, try to eat more protein and fewer carbohydrates. Nuts and fresh fruit make a great snack and can help prevent a mid-afternoon slump or tide you over between longer-than-usual meal times.
- Try to find some downtime during your day (even if it’s only 15 minutes) to totally relax and do nothing.
- Go for a walk, try to work out or even jump rope in your room — anything that will give you a little physical diversion.