For Pamela Crouser, co-owner of CPrint, an international franchise of printing companies, planning off-site meetings at hotels with franchise associates from around the country is an integral part of the business model. "The meetings are serious because some of the companies that attend are struggling," says Crouser, who owns CPrint with her husband, Thomas. That's why she tries to keep the overall mood as lighthearted as possible.
Those who attend her meetings at the Omni Hotel in Jacksonville, Florida, smell chocolate cookies baking while they talk. There are smooth stones on the meeting tables. "You pick them up and rub them," she says. "You'd be surprised how many people do this." With the hotel's "Sensational Meeting" program, Crouser can also get wheatgrass shots, kumquat trees and an assortment of "sun-splashed Jamaican rhythms" piped into the room.
Meeting spaces at scores of hotels nationwide are being revamped to offer a unique and highly stimulating experience for attendees. Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants offer packages that range from playing with Legos or painter's palettes ("Degrees of Discovery") to playing with Nerf footballs and Twister while snacking on Pop-Tarts and Lucky Charms ("Fun Worship"). At Gansevoort South in Miami, meetings can be held in teepees with pillows, a working fire pit and power shots of vitamin-enriched smoothies. At the Camelback Inn in Scottsdale, Arizona, meeting attendees may be given a "Buddha Board" (whatever you write disappears so you can watch your problems go away).
Does it actually work? According to Mitch Ditkoff, co-founder and president of creative training and consulting firm Idea Champions, there is substance to what may seem to be a superfluous act of limited tangible benefit. "When people see a meeting that isn't like 100 meetings they've been to before, they're refreshed," says Ditkoff. "They say to themselves, 'Ah, this is going to be different.'"
But Ditkoff cautions that simply deciding on a newfangled meeting isn't enough. "Some people will get a room like this and bail out," he says. "Ultimately, the people in that room have to think and collaborate." Translation: If you call the meeting, you can't just sit there tossing a ball against the wall.