The Benefits of Free Time

By Renee Houston Zemanski

A recent study reports that 68 percent of sales executives believe that leisure or free time at meetings is vital. Why? Because they can build relationships with colleagues in ways that they can’t when they are back at the office. So, the next time you think about packing session after session into a two-day meeting, think about adding a little free time for people to unwind and network.

When it comes to adding free time, there are arguments for both sides of the coin, says Gary Lockwood, president of Bizsuccess, a company that helps CEOs to get more out of their business. "Many people who have families don’t like to be sent away for three days of unnecessary meetings and pre-planned events if everything could be fit into a day," he says. "However, if it’s going to be more than one day, many say it’s beneficial that meeting planners build a little leisure activity into the days to keep productivity at its peak."

Lockwood believes that building in some free time allows for learning, retention, and spirit. If meetings are jam-packed for more than one day, he sees people tuning out.

"[Adding free time] is a way to disengage the brain from the heavy stuff," Lockwood says. "It’s simple – results in today’s business world require a brain. When your brain gets tired, your creativity level goes down and most people don’t even recognize that it’s happening to themselves or people around them.

"I recently attended a meeting where the participants went in groups to hike at Yosemite National Park," Lockwood says. "What was interesting is that the conversation eventually came around to topics we were learning about, so we were actually learning, but in a much more relaxed atmosphere. Plus, we were a lot more refreshed when we came back to the meeting that afternoon."

Lockwood warns not to schedule activities that aren’t appropriate for everyone for example, not everyone plays golf or tennis, so there should be many options.

"Do something that works for everyone or just open it up for some free time," Lockwood advises.

Some ideas:

  • City tour - make it short, one-and-a-half hours at the most. End with an optional cocktail party at a unique location.
  • Group hike - it’s important that everyone in the group be in good physical condition. Also, don’t make it too strenuous.
  • Croquet or Bocce Ball tournament - set this up with the hotel or in a nearby park.
  • Badminton or ping-pong tournament - good for a lot of laughs.
  • Give people a chance to do what they like to do. Provide them with many different options.
  • Hold an optional cooking contest in which the guests are the "chefs" and the hotel or resort chefs are the judges.

So, if you’ve got a meeting to plan, relax and give the brain a break once in a while.