Events can be taxing on the mind and the body, for attendees and especially organizers.
In 2018, Dave Stevens was having brunch with a friend when the topic came up. “Why don’t we meet healthier?” They asked themselves. “It’s not that hard. I just don’t think people know how.”
Since then, Stevens has made it a mission to educate industry professionals on the benefits of incorporating health and wellness into events as an independent consultant, speaker, and host of the Youtube series Return on Wellness. At data.world, where he’s director of field marketing and global events, he designs online and offline meetups to give weight to three pillars of well-being: mindfulness, movement, and meals.
Stevens’ own “fitness journey”—as he calls it—began around 2007, during a period of events-induced burnout. As an experiential tour manager, he was on the road so often that he didn’t own an apartment.
“I was not healthy, I was not fit,” he recalls. “I would work ridiculously long days, make no time for myself. Really the typical planner experience.”
Once Stevens began changing his lifestyle, he realized he was more alert at work. He was sharper and more creative.
Stevens’ personal and professional paths eventually merged when he joined 24 Hour Fitness as a manager of meetings and events. Catering to a fitness-focused audience, he learned the nuances of health and wellness-oriented planning. Creating a nutritious and inclusive menu is one thing, for example—making one for a crowd of body-builders is another.
“And that was just part of the brand, so it made sense to be part of the meeting, to help support people with their personal goals,” he reasons.
Fitness wasn’t exactly part of the brand at b2b enterprise software company Alation, where Stevens joined in 2017. Luckily, he found a supporter in the company’s VP of marketing.
“Let’s do engaging stuff, let’s tell stories. Let’s not just do events,”
Stevens recounts her encouraging him. Placing her trust in his judgment would prove a wise decision when the pandemic hit.
For most people, health was never more top-of-mind nor higher priority than during the early days of the pandemic. Alation’s digital events stood apart in their emphasis on well-being. Amid the glut of Zoom food and wine tastings, Stevens’ team offered guided meditation sessions and workouts. “There was an openness to new things,” Stevens says of the uniformly positive reception by attendees.
Health and wellness was intrinsic to the revamped events strategy.
“We would be mindful of what it’s like to sit and watch a laptop for hours on end,”
Stevens elaborates, noting that digital events would include frequent breaks for movement or networking and that sessions were capped at 20 minutes. “Things of that nature really make an impact on people,” he attests.
Stevens proposed his tried and true formula for healthier events—mindfulness, movement, and meals—in a 2022 white paper co-authored with several like-minded peers including an M.D. and certified nutritionist. The paper titled “Increase ROI by Increasing Wellness” provides data-backed recommendations on ensuring that attendees’ physical and mental needs are being cared for, through considerations and practices such as allowing time to unplug and hosting morning aerobics. A list of “brain foods” to include in snacks and meals is included.
If there’s a golden rule in Stevens’ playbook, it’s to practice self-care. When addressing event professionals, he’s apt to use an airplane oxygen mask as a metaphor.
“When you’re on a plane, they say, ‘put on your own mask before you can help others,’” he explains. “So we’ve got to do the same thing. We have to take care of ourselves, otherwise, we can’t take care of others.”