It’s a delicate balance to develop an agenda that reflects a meeting’s objectives while providing ample networking and free time for attendees and guests. And when there’s so much to learn and so little time, it’s usually the free time that gets cut. Understandable. But one could also make the case for making attendee free time one of the primary objectives for any meeting.

Conferences and events are meant to energize attendees, teach them something they didn’t know before they got there and inspire them to do great things when they leave – but few things are more draining than spending a few days in a windowless room with hundreds or thousands of other people.

Early mornings. Late nights. Different time zones. Questionable food choices. Lots of walking. Lots of sitting. Lots of talking. Most of it happens within the confines of convention centers and hotel ballrooms. And having a conference in a resort location can be a tortuous experience if attendees don’t have opportunities to enjoy it.

Don’t get us wrong. We live for maximizing content in a variety of ways that engage and inform an audience — click here to see a few examples — but what’s the point if the audience is too tired to respond to, retain or maybe even understand the message? Allowing for free time isn’t a new idea and the benefits aren’t a mystery. Achieving a balance that works for everyone is elusive, however. Here what we’ve learned over the years:

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