In my days as a senior government manager, I recall feeling as though meetings were a place where you went to get a bit of your soul sucked out of you.
So I’d suggest that perhaps we should all be setting a rather loftier goal for our meetings and events. And while we’re reaching those loftier goals, why not turn the entire meeting experience into more of an inspiring experience by adding more fun into the mix?
Injecting more fun into your meetings won’t unto itself guarantee your meeting is a success, but it just might help draw more bums into the seats, keep folks awake and away from the swimming pools, and leave attendees feeling so good that they’re already planning to attend next year’s event before they’ve even hauled their bums from the seats.
Here are a few random ideas on how to up the fun factor in your next meeting.
Set the Tone before the Meeting
Make the agenda interesting, fun, and grabbing. I don’t mean corny or goofy, but for goodness sakes inject some life into the actual meeting agenda copy! This is as much a marketing piece as anything else, so use captivating copy to attract attention and encourage all your presenters to use fun titles, regardless of how serious their presentation is (in fact, I’d suggest the more serious the topic, the more in need of a catchy, even self-deprecating title there is).
Create a fun top-ten list of the reasons people shouldn’t miss the meeting in addition to a fun top-ten list for why they should attend.
Create a short, fun video (or series of videos) to post on your website that will serve as a teaser for your event. Ask you presenters for short promo videos to post. (As a keynoter, I’ve often provided teaser videos for clients and the feedback suggests that the videos have in fact influenced some attendees’ decisions to attend the meeting.)
Put together a fun video or at least a list of suggested things to see, do, eat and experience in the host city. Create a family-friendly version as well to encourage people to bring along their spouses and kids.
Send people a fun “How to Survive the Meeting” tip sheet. Keep it fun, but include some actual nuggets that will help put attendees’ minds at ease.
If you’re going to have a theme, then use it or lose it. And don’t go back to the same old cliché theme that sounds like it’s been hacked off someone’s corporate vision statement or that sounds like every other theme from the last ten years. Create a theme that’s truly memorable, inspiring and fun. Something creative enough to actually serve as a useful catchphrase or that truly can be used as a guiding light when you make decisions about the event. Try using a thought-provoking or unusual question for your theme, then encourage all the presenters and attendees to arrive at the meeting with their best answer to the question. Having a question theme also creates an instant ice breaker for meeting attendees.
Take advantage of all the social media outlets to plug your meeting in fun, creative ways and to highlight testimonials from past attendees.
Nothing says, “Hey this is going to be a fun meeting” quite like fun directional signs. (Conversely, nothing says, “I’m already hating this meeting because I can’t even find the bloody registration table.”)
Nothing says, “Hey this is going to be a fun meeting” quite like fun name tags! Okay, so maybe fun name tags won’t make or break your meeting, but it’s something. Several companies offer wacky name tag add-ons with labels such as, “Plays Well with Others” or “Runs with Scissors.” Or leave space for people to add a creative alter ego name based on a superhero OR leave space for people to add their alter ego fun job title that captures the real essence of what they do for a living and award a prize for the most creative title.
Have all your meeting volunteers wearing fun t-shirts with your theme emblazoned on them. Consider different colored t-shirts, hats or scarves to identify different categories of volunteers.
Hire a “town crier” to direct people to the registration table. The town crier can also be used to help herd folks back into the sessions after breaks throughout your event.
Have a door prize draw right at the convention table to help set the tone.
During the Meeting
Look for opportunities to create rituals and traditions at your meetings. Traditions become part of your history, they help bond people together and give attendees something to look forward to year after year and something to reminisce about. It might be a ritual to kick off the entire meeting, to end the meeting, to start or end each day, a ritual to introduce the new incoming president, or a ritual that welcomes the new attendees in a fun way. (One of my clients had all their newest members serve coffee to the rest of the attendees on the first breakfast while wearing bright red vests.)
Invite any meeting attendees or volunteers who have a talent of some sort to busk during the coffee and meals breaks. You can also use it as a fundraising mechanism to raise money for your charity of choice.
Include a fun trivia list or fun questionnaire on each table. Use a different one each half day.
There’s a reason Billy Crystal is back at the Oscars. A great emcee can keep the energy, theme and fun flowing throughout the meeting.
Award prizes for the furthest away attendee and the closest attendee; the best dressed; the person whose appearance most closely ties into your theme; the attendee with the best idea on how to improve next year’s meeting…
Award a “Best Audience” prize to the table that demonstrates the best audience behavior.
Shoot short, fun “attendee in the hall” videos to capture their impromptu thoughts on the meeting and then intersperse the clips throughout the meeting.
Award a prize for whoever can provide the group with the fastest and most accurate summary of the meeting on the closing day.
Let attendees know what wacky holiday (“Talk Like a Pirate Day” – September 19; “ Answer Your Cat’s Question Day,” January 22) it is each day of your meeting.
Have a different fun theme day for each day of the event (day 1 could be “High Five” day, day 2, “Talk in the Third Person, day” day 3 “Ask a Strange Question” day.)
Take a cue from the folks at “Dance Your PhD”, wherein PhD candidates actually dance their PhD, and encourage presenters to do a 30-second dance summarizing their presentation.
Hold a “This Meeting’s Got Talent” evening or morning where people can showcase unusual talents.
Match different fun theme songs to different presenters.
Hold a meeting scavenger hunt over the course of the meeting that links to your theme.
Hold a “get to know you” attendee scavenger hunt where people must find different attendees who match unusual characteristics/traits/hobbies as listed on the sheet.
Have some greeters at each entrance. Hey, if it works for Wal-Mart…
Do a “word of the day” drinking game – wherein whenever the emcee (or presenters if they are game) says a certain word everyone in the audience takes an exaggerated sip from their water/coffee/tea.
Put an “idea bulletin board,” “humor board,” or “photo board” up in a prominent location.
Have each presenter answer a series of quirky questions before each presentation (a la James Lipton from “Insider the Actors Studio”).
Hire caricaturists to draw cartoon sketches of the presenters, attendees and even to capture a summary of the presentations in a fun way.
Put a headlamp on each table, so that if anyone wants to ask a question of a presenter, they must don the headlamp and turn on the light to indicate they wish to ask a question.
After the Meeting
A fun post-event video on the web site can help remind attendees of the value they received from the event and prime the interest for next year’s event.
Create an opportunity for attendees to easily upload video testimonials to your website, encouraging people to keep them short, benefit-focused and fun.
Send out a humorous “top-10 things we hoped you learned from the meeting list” that intersperse funny highlights with some serious gems from the event.
As you can appreciate there truly is an endless number of ways to inject a bit, or a lot, of fun into your meetings. Depending on the size and nature of your meeting some of these ideas may be too “out there” for your next event, but with a little imagination and input from meeting attendees, there are countless simple things any meeting organizers can do to up the fun factor.
This article is by Michael Kerr from mikekerr.com.