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5 tips on how to use the elements of nature at your next event

By Heather Hansen O’Neill | Feb 29, 2024

Do your events at times feel like you’re herding cats or reigning in exhausted children?

I remember the spring of second grade, when we were out of control. Some were running around, while others gazed out the windows. The gazers were quiet but with an energy like caged tigers.

Mrs. Bellis calmly said, “OK children, it’s time for an adventure. Today, we’re going to have class outside!”

This wasn’t her first rodeo, so she gave us a “science” activity that enabled us to run around searching for leaves, sticks and acorns. Then we sat in a big circle, read a story and talked. I pushed the limits (as I’ve been known to do) and took my shoes off to feel the grass. Mrs. Bellis just looked at me and smiled. She was the best.

Imagine your event attendees are the caged tigers, and I’m encouraging you to tune into your inner Mrs. Bellis by:

  • Understanding the attendee (frustrations, needs and energy).
  • Looking beyond the walls and pushing past the boundaries of what is common.
  • Intentionally using nature to increase engagement, provide a unique experience and deliver takeaways the participants will be inspired to use.

Did you see the Eventbrite’s TRNDS 2024 report, which found that 69% of attendees prefer events that connect them with nature?

Offer a guided morning hike, stopping at a garden area to hear from the chef how they include farm-to-table catering.

Jennifer Squeglia, owner of RLC Events, believes that “exposure to nature opens people’s minds to brainstorm opportunities.”

“The windows were wide open, overlooking the water which shifted the mindset of attendees,” she says about one of her recent events. “The fresh air set the stage and provided a wonderful setting for the event.”

In my “Elements of Adventure” program, there’s a framework that provides planning and hospitality leaders with a guideline for where to begin. We break it down into five areas that correspond to the elements of nature. You can use these elements to help you incorporate an engaging adventure into your next event.

1. EARTH talks about the grounding principle of purpose. How can you allow attendees to put their toes in the grass, encouraging them to come back to their why and the foundation of their values? A few examples include:

  • Offer a guided morning hike, stopping at a garden area to hear from the chef how they include farm-to-table catering.
  • Include a green wall in the décor.
  • Have a planning session outside in the grass (channel Mrs. Bellis and encourage them to take off their shoes).

2. WATER involves the flow of relationships. How can you dive into opportunities for unique interactions and deeper connections?

  • Include a waterfall or pipe rain sounds into a common area.
  • Get innovative in how you encourage hydration.
  • Do a water balloon team-building activity (or any innovative networking that increases the Flow of Connection!)

3. AIR infuses inspiration into the event in ways that open minds and transport people from problems to innovative solutions.

  • Have an outdoor picnic lunch.
  • Bring in an ornithologist (bird expert) for a fun activity and tie it back to a lesson on results that soar.
  • How about a hot-air balloon VIP experience?

4. FIRE sparks action. It’s time to give participants more than a temporary reprieve. It’s time to help them find the takeaway they can activate once they return to their real world.

  • I do a transformational fire pit experience to release beliefs and judgments that hold people back. You could include your own version or activity.
  • Include a hibachi dinner experience.
  • A fire walk is powerful. But be sure you only do this with an instructor who is highly experienced and skilled in this area.

5. HUMANITY is not an element of nature but it’s what ties all the concepts together—encouraging attendees to become present in the moment while also looking beyond the event to make a profound impact.

  • Find a way to connect attendees with the culture and people of the event location.
  • Include a meaningful way to give back to those in need, deepening the bond of your group.
  • Remove distractions and facilitate opportunities to network in a deep and focused way.

“I love it when people talk about an event for years. You realize the long-term effect is that you create impactful memories for people. That’s what’s important.”

These are just a few suggestions to plant a seed for you. I can’t wait to see how you nurture and expand on them. Message me at with your ideas. I’d love to include them in my next book!

Incorporating nature into your event allows them to become more immersed in the experience. It generates memories.

“It’s about creating sensory experiences,” says Lori James, president and owner of AZA Events. “The more you engage your guests, the more your guests will have a return on their experience. One example was when we designed a Harry Potter theme for a leading technology company AZA partnered with for over 13 years. They brought the movie to life by fabricating a full-size train with smoke and choo-choo noise coming out of the engine as guests walked up the stairs to the pool to be greeted by Harry Potter and Dumbledore. The dining hall had floating candles cascading across the tables, including a backdrop of the library scenes. Super-sized spiders hung from the palm trees, the DJ booth was a double-decker bus façade and there was even a talking sorting hat. I love it when people talk about an event for years. You realize the long-term effect is that you create impactful memories for people. That’s what’s important.”

Between you and I, it’s been a LONG time since second grade. I remember that experience with Mrs. Bellis because it made an impact on me. And when you incorporate nature into your event, you can have that kind of effect on your attendees!



Heather Hansen O’Neill

Heather Hansen O’Neill is an international keynote speaker, behavioral expert, 3x author and adventure junkie. She is also a 2x TEDx speaker, host of the popular podcast From Fear to Fire, and a past MPI chapter president. Her signature model, “The Elements of Adventure,” is the powerful framework she utilizes to empower leaders, ignite results and change the world…one adventure at a time.