Planning a virtual retreat during a pandemic requires intentional event design. All events do, in fact.  We wanted to ensure that this event brought about positive change to the delegates as we are not immune to stress during COVID and can truly benefit from meaningful content being delivered to us. Equally important was the composition of the attendees; learning within a supportive community is so much more effective.

Roadmap for success:

So I spent lots of time researching the best-in-class experts and asked them to either speak at the event or facilitate a session.  Next, I examined the flow of the event. I needed a high energy, passionate speaker to kick off the day. Enter Zoe Dafniotis, Physical Education teacher, Fitness Professional and TRX instructor. She spent a few minutes outlining the core principles to a short but highly structured workout routine, where plank is king. Then we got physical and tried her 6 exercises repeated 6 times. Zoe’s session was a huge hit; one could sense the energy shift, and engagement was over the top!

The next sessions had to build on and complement the learnings. Annie Gaudreault, Founder VEEV, is a nutritionist and wellness coach extraordinaire. She debunked many myths about aging. Delegates learned that your lifestyle is a far more important wellness indicator than genes. I mean if Annie, who has some “nasty genes” in her family tree is able to run marathons, it certainly gives hope to us all!

Diane Crawford, Founder, The Voyage Inc. led us through a journey where she explored Confidence – Develop your Superpower. Using polls by probing the audience with questions was effective. Delegates were provided with a road map on how to build their confidence throughout their lives.

Delighting the Audience

In the months leading up to the retreat, I wanted to ensure a memorable experience for all delegates. I know that “breaking bread with someone” is an effective way to connect. So I decided that we would all eat together during this event and would split the group up into small breakout rooms so people could have a chance to know each other better. I purposefully sought out a caterer in the GTA who would create a healthy menu and could guarantee that the meal would arrive at people’s doorsteps. I partnered with Encore Catering; they have an excellent reputation and I have personally taste tested their delicious food. Delegate feedback was excellent; the meal arrived with a personalized menu card that had their name on it. This imparted a sense that they were special, as indeed they are. Aligning with a brand like Encore Catering that understands the importance of delighting the audience is integral to event success.

Engagement is King

Our social media campaign included wellness topics, profiled speakers and facilitators via short interviews and highlighted the benefits of attending. One of the first things we did was to partner with Trish Beesley, graphic designer and photographer. She designed wellness affirmation statements and accompanying imagery which were provided to early bird registrants. These beautiful, peaceful and inspirational wallpaper designs could be uploaded into iPhone or Android, providing a lasting benefit to delegates.

In the planning process, our events team tested out many engagement tactics and decided on 2 major ones. First off, we would curate a Pre-Show. During that time when delegates are logging on, we had them participate in a gamification word search powered by Engamio. Our sponsor, Samantha King, CEO of Fempire Builders, was keen to partner with us. “I love word searches and the competitive aspect of gamification, coupled with a Call to Action that showcased my company made it a perfect choice for me” Samantha stated.

Later in the day, we had immersive experiences like a much needed yoga class with Laura Brailsford. Another hit was a sound healing session facilitated by Nicole Manes, co-founder Sound Response Wellness. A sound bath has many benefits and is a wonderful wellness modality to reduce stress. Nicole uses her own voice as well as sound bowls, tuning forks and chimes allowing you to meditate and find peace. Feedback from her session was stellar.

Vendor spotlights were interspersed throughout the day. We learned about skin care from Helen Snell, Arbonne and her session got everyone inspired to suggest a DIY facial at the next retreat! We benefited from Jodie Rogers’ fireside chat about the healing properties of doTERRA essential oils. Jenny Hall did a ENJO product demonstration which was very convincing. The ENJO fibers in the cleaning cloths can actually remove butter/grease from a plate simply by adding water. No nasty cleaning chemicals needed!

Another premiere vendor, Teresa Isabel Dias, Founder, MenopausED, was also a big hit. Teresa is a pharmacist and menopause guru. Did you know that 20% of women going through menopause have such a hard time coping that they quit their jobs?  Her take on menopause being a possible glass ceiling had delegates talking up a storm. It is high time that we destigmatize menopause!

These examples showcase the vendors but the methods varied from product demos, to fireside chats, all the while offering compelling education. And the audience asked many questions, which shows how involved they were.

To recap the learning we were exposed to throughout the day, we utilized MyQuiz and created 12 wellness questions. Delegates were told that the person with the highest number of correct answers in the fastest time would win a prize; so competition was fierce! Contests are a great way to engage your audience.

Don’t Forget the Endnote

We really have to pay attention to the last session of the day. Having someone strong to close the event is paramount; too many times we focus on the keynote speaker and not the endnote. But the closing session is the last memory of the event.  So who better to close the day than Elvira V. Hopper, Founder, Live Your Vibe Transformation? She is an inspirational speaker in a class of her own. Elvira’s story is so compelling and people really resonate with her message that living out of alignment and not fully self-expressed can lead to tragedy. Elvira is a talented singer and crooned throughout her session so that we were educated and entertained at the same time. Who could ask for more?

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