People are the power

Paul Nolan

The bar has never been set higher for what is deemed an effective incentive travel experience. According to a 2018 list of trends from the Society of Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE), today’s programs must aim beyond providing enjoyable experiences to creating ones that will “change a participant’s outlook on life.”

The statement from the SITE trends list is well-meaning. Yet it could be more intimidating than emboldening to a CEO, sales manager or even a professional meeting planner who is tasked with creating a group experience that will energize the team to hit stretch goals and reward them once they have.

Keep calm and carry on.

Exotic locations will create lifetime memories more often than not, so go for it if you can. But it occurs to me that life-changing experiences are about people more often than place. Priya Parker, author of the new book “The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters,” was asked by the New York Times when she first got the idea for the book.

“It wasn’t one moment per se, but many over a period of time — every time I was at a dinner party with amazing people who would go home after a beautiful night of food having never connected in a meaningful way, or at a meeting with attention paid to the whiteboards or the PowerPoint font but not to gripping people or reminding them why they do the work they do. I kept thinking, all this time and effort was clearly put into these gatherings. So what is actually happening and why aren’t we connecting?

“I like to tell people that Martha Stewart’s greatest crime wasn’t insider trading, it was telling a generation of hosts that gathering is about fish knives, flowers and canapés; that if you get the things right, magic will happen,” Parker continues. “One of the documents I found that illustrated this for me was a party-planning guide on Stewart’s website. It’s a 29-item checklist and only three of the items focused on people. I wanted to write a book that shifted the focus away from the crudités and on to what actually creates magic between people.”

Undoubtedly, successful incentive travel experiences require tons of planning. However, the “authenticity” we are advised to pursue from these trips ultimately relies on the people who are participating and often can’t be planned. Embrace the challenge, bring your team together and celebrate your collective achievements. Don’t sweat the napkin rings.