Bringing meditation to your event can feel risky. Will it make people uncomfortable? What if someone thinks it’s too “woo woo?” Will that resistance cause a sense of disconnection within the group?
Your fears are understandable. But done correctly, meditation at corporate events can be accessible to everyone, calm social anxiety, make attendees more present, and foster a sense of unity.
Jesse Israel has been making this experience possible at large events for years. He’s the founder of The Big Quiet, a mass meditation in public spaces. I’ve personally attended his events at landmarks like One World Trade and City Hall in New York City. They’re magical. Under his guidance, I’ve seen thousands of strangers go from a buzz of low-level anxiety to a group that is present and deeply engaged with each other.
Jesse has taken what he’s learned from The Big Quiet and brought those skills to companies from Adidas to Marriott. We got on the phone to talk about why meditation can be transformative for attendees at a corporate event, and how event planners can benefit.
On a basic level, what are the benefits of bringing meditation to a corporate event?
A lot of work events, especially conferences, can be slightly frantic. There’s a feeling of, “I have to make this worthwhile. I have to know the right people. I have to be seen a certain way.”
To make things worse, lots of people are on their phones and screens. When I’m speaking on a stage, I look out and half of the people have their faces lit up. Unfortunately, this disconnected energy is the norm.
The great thing about a group meditation is that it puts everyone on the same level. It allows folks to drop their concerns and equalize. So when people share a meditation, they come out of it calmer, more patient, and more themselves. They’re more in their bodies.
As a result, people are also better at listening to whoever is speaking next. That’s a great added bonus.
What are some benefits of meditation that the everyday person might not realize?
A few minutes of mindfulness can totally ground someone and reset their stress levels. That’s why it’s really helpful for an organizer to have people practice something that allows them to be more calm and experience less social anxiety.
Meditation can also be really energizing. It can be perfect right in that droopy slot where people are getting burnt out on the programming. It gives them a nice reset and reboots focus.
Practicing meditation also releases serotonin and dopamine, and reduces cortisol. This creates feelings of well-being, which means that people feel happier at the event.
You’ve led meditations for companies like Adidas and Marriott. How does the energy change in the room from before the meditation to after?
The energy of the audience can start off a little cold and uncomfortable. But meditation can be a really juicy icebreaker. After meditating, people are more likely to talk to someone who they didn’t know. There’s more energy in the room. In that space, all it takes is a simple prompt to get people to talk all about the things that are important to them. They’ve been yearning for permission to do that.
Meditation can also bring up emotions for people. I’ve seen people cry in meditations. But then they release that feeling, and leave the experience feeling refreshed. They’re more at home in the space.
I know that you often incorporate instruments and music into your meditations. What’s the benefit of that?
Sometimes people can get really uncomfortable meditating in large groups when it’s totally silent. Sounds of phones or noises in other rooms makes them uneasy. So music can really allow the mind and body to settle. It puts the body into a parasympathetic nervous state. It’s an added layer of helping people relax into their bodies. These sounds create a bubble, and allow people to relax and be less distracted.
What resistance do organizers have to meditation at their event? How do you respond to that?
I’ve had organizers express concern that meditation is going to be too New Age or weird. They feel that it might make a negative impact on how the attendee perceives the organizer’s event. My response is to offer meditation in a way that meets the attendees and staff at the level that they’re at. I use language that is relatable, not confusing. I also use clear, scientific language. Meditation is proven to be beneficial in social and work environments. If it’s presented in an inclusive way, it’s a win-win all around.