Developing the agenda for a conference or retreat is always a challenging undertaking. There is usually a lot of material to cover in a short amount of time and you want to provide a positive experience. Participants are committing time and money so they expect to get a return on that investment. At the same time, the event should be an enjoyable experience. “Planners should consider adding outdoor activities to their meeting,” says Kristy Coffin, West Yellowstone Tourist Business Improvement District administrator. She adds, “There are many benefits to taking the group outdoors for part of the event.”
Coffin works in West Yellowstone, Montana, the western gateway to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in one of the most scenic areas of the country. She often helps conference organizers develop the outdoor components to their events and has learned that getting outside for part of the meeting or retreat can have a positive impact. “Outdoor activities can be productive, while, at the same time, they can be a lot of fun,” she explains. Here are some of her insights.
Break up the day to refresh
A long day of presentations and discussions can be tiring. Coffin says that planners might want to consider breaking up the meeting by including an outdoor activity in the middle of the day. “Meet in the morning for a working session, then go outside for an activity in the afternoon. Return to conference in the evening. The sunshine and fresh air encourages positive emotions and helps reduce stress.” She says that event organizers often tell her that participants come back after an activity break with more focus, and the meetings are more productive.
Outdoor activities do not have to be strenuous. A popular activity that Coffin helps groups arrange is a guided tour of Yellowstone National Park. Naturalist-led tours in luxury coaches with stops at picturesque vistas and geyser-studded meadows offer a fun way to enjoy the scenery. Participants can recharge and get ready for the rest of the meeting. Wintertime guided tours in special heated and winterized snow coaches take groups to experience the wonders of Yellowstone in the winter. For a more energetic group, a guided hike or cross country ski trip may be in order.
Make it challenging
Working together to accomplish a task can build team cohesiveness and develop problem-solving skills. Zipline and high ropes courses are popular in many areas of the northwest. Coffin says the group members collaborate to complete the course. West Yellowstone is the perfect locale for group competitions in the style of the television show, The Amazing Race, or scavenger hunts. When groups work together in a competitive but fun environment, they often come away with increased productivity and with boosted confidence.
Make it educational
Coffin says that giving the meeting attendees an educational experience can enhance teambuilding, especially when group members work together in a learning experience. West Yellowstone offers some unique educational activities. The Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center is a sanctuary for animals that, for one reason or another, cannot survive in the wild. Groups can learn about these magnificent creatures from a park naturalist.
Dog sledding is an exciting winter activity and Coffin explains that groups can learn how to drive a dog sled. Participants will work together to learn how to harness the dogs and how to drive the sled. Then it is off on a thrilling trip through snow-covered forests with only the sound of paws treading on the snow.
Opportunities are everywhere
Whatever the nature of your event, including some outdoor time can provide beneficial results. Corporate retreats or business meetings will benefit as members become better at working together and solving problems. Outside activities at association conferences will give attendees the opportunity to network in a fun and relaxed environment and to gain skills to take back with them.
“Good outdoor activities are action-centered but they don’t necessarily have to be athletic,” says Coffin. She adds, “Just getting outside helps add value to the conference and gives attendees a special experience.”
Coffin enjoys working in West Yellowstone because there are so many opportunities for great outdoor adventures, but all the areas of the Pacific Northwest and Intermountain regions offer wonderful activities that are unique to the locale. Local Convention and Visitor Bureaus in every locality have experts on staff to help you develop a successful outdoor component for your meeting or retreat.