Attendees of multi-day events need free time. How much free time is enough and what is too much? The location of your event may dictate how much free time you allot.
Tourist Destination Cities
For events held in a city that’s a tourist destination, you’ll want to pencil in enough free time for attendees to enjoy quality attractions. If you are stingy with free time, attendees will make their own free time. The time they choose may be different than what you would. The result can be harmful to the success of your event. You don’t want attendees ditching programs, workshops and meetings to take in the local sights because you failed to give them what they wanted.
Tourist destination cities attract more attendees because the venue offers a combination of a conference/event and mini-vacation. You can offer free time starting mid-afternoon to give attendees time off until the next morning activity. This swath of time is generous and warranted for this type of location.
Ideas for Scheduling Free Time
There are several things to consider when planning free time for attendees. The National Criminal Justice Reference Service features a guideline for planning conference programs and states:
“Free time is simply any break period of more than thirty minutes when conferees have time to do what they want.”
If you have several jam-packed days of activities for your event, then you need to build in several 30 to 45 minute breaks. This span of time allows attendees to go back to their rooms for a brief respite. During that time, they catch up on emails and phone calls, network with other attendees, visit the spa, engage with vendors or simply take a short leisurely walk.
With shorter breaks, you can give more frequent free time between activities. Another advantage is that the break (free time) isn’t so long that attendees wander far from your venue. This ensures your workshops, meetings and other activities will have a strong attendance.
Don’t Compete with Local Happenings
One of the best ways to avoid time conflicts between your event schedule and local happenings is to plan free time around major local activities. For example, if your host city presents a summer concert in the town park during your event, it’s easy to plan around it so attendees have free time to attend the local concert without missing your event activities.
You can visit the local chamber of commerce website to assess all local events happening during your event. If there are any colleges or universities in the city, be sure to check their event schedules as well.
Double Up to Create Free Time
There is one valuable technique you can use to help create free time by doubling up two activities. For example, in 2014 newsletter for Arizona Sunbelt Chapter Meeting Professionals International president Cristin Barr stated free time had “developed into elaborate and organized events that often have an educational or a team-building component.”
If your event includes any of these or other type of activities, you may want to heed the advice of Peggy Traister (director of sales for Rustler’s Rooste in Phoenix). Traister stated, “Many planners are finding that an effective dining experience enhances their meetings.”
Before you slate a dinner or luncheon speaker, consider this opportunity to incorporate one of these options that can be included. That means that the time-slot you would normally schedule for that activity (now combined with the luncheon or dinner) can become a “free time” for attendees.
Free Time Scheduling Balancing Act
It can be a balancing act to schedule free time for multi-day events. Create your ideal schedule and then revise to allow enough free time for attendees. They will appreciate your effort and enjoy your events more.