We know that incorporating play is an important part of the planning process for our events for a ton of different reasons, but choosing where to incorporate play-time appropriately can be tricky. Below are 10 ways to give your participants a more playful experience at any event.
Promoting a playful attitude across your event has been proven to create and strengthen bonds, increase productivity, promote creativity, and lock in learning. But meetings also mean business; they often deal with serious subject matter that doesn’t lend itself to fun. The challenge is to make play contextually appropriate and focused. Here are some concrete (and sneaky) ways event professionals can infuse a playful attitude.
1. Designate Play Zones
Designate areas of your conference specifically for open play at all times to not-so-subtly promote play. Giant nostalgia games like Jenga, Connect Four, and Twister are becoming a staple at large receptions, on tradeshow floors, and at outdoor events. These oversized games are like beautiful interactive decor that helps people network while they play in a unique way. They can be grouped together in fun ‘zones’ so they don’t disturb the other components of the program.
More independent Play Zones with sheets of adult colouring book pages, kitschy craft stations, video games, or collaborative mural painting are another way to promote playfulness, and can be enjoyed independently or with friends.
2. Facilitate Networking
Networking is often the most stressful component of your event program for participants, so switching up the format to make it easier and more play-based will allow them to have fun while they create new connections. Try a Speed-Dating format by pre-matching guests who have never worked together and have totally different skill-sets and job functions and switching them out after a set amount of time. You could also make it more of a straight up game by designating guests with half of a famous duo and enticing them with prizes to find the guests with the other half of their duo in the room. Another option is to ask your speakers to start each session with a networking ice-breaker like finding the person closest to them that they know the least and asking them to discuss a question that ties back to the content of the session.
3. Disguise Teambuilding with Fun
Almost every conference or meeting includes an (often dreaded) team building component. The trick is to break the ice between participants by creating a high energy group activity that is layered on top of an existing reception or networking function. You can do this by playing a super fun team-based Pub Trivia game at a reception or post-dinner, or by kicking off the day’s program by energizing everyone with a fun game show like Name That Tune or Family Feud. Teams can be created on the fly or you can designate teams to accumulate points throughout the program by peppering these games across your schedule of events. This eliminates the need for spending lots of money on off-site excursion and puts less pressure on the participants to perform as a team.
4. Gamify Sponsorship Activations
Showcase your sponsors in fun, playful ways by incorporating interactive ways for them to showcase their product or service. Think giant vending machines to give away swag, fun ball pit chill-out spots, or even CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) give-back stations (think building a bike for kids or making care packages for the needy). Guests passing by your sponsorship areas should feel compelled to get involved and play while they are exposed to your sponsor’s services.
Photo Credit: Ryan Lash. Ball Pit concept and design: PDW, Inc. Balls purchased from: Precision Plastic Ball.
5. Make it Super Social
Incorporating social media has become a staple of any great event, but there is always room to take it to the next level and make it more fun for everyone. You can gamify the social aspect of your event by incorporating a fun scavenger hunt throughout the venue space with prizes for most shares on social media, most likes on Instagram, or whatever parameter serves your objectives best to get the word out. You can then display leaderboards with top images and posts from your social game throughout the event space to promote the activity and stir up competition, and use your emcee and speakers to remind guests to get in on the fun.
6. Surprise and Delight
Keep your guests on their toes, full of excitement and anticipation for what will happen next to promote a more fun, playful energy. You can do this by teasing out surprise special guests, pop-up giveaways or adding surprise entertainment. You could also steal the concept of a Dine-Around Event (visiting multiple restaurants and bars throughout an evening to get a taste of each) and apply it to your meeting space. Hold surprise evening events at off-site venues or transform the setup of educational sessions each day (e.g. classroom to living room lounge style) to keep your participants buzzing about what will happen next.
7. Convey Messages with Music
Playing music is the easiest and possibly the most fun way to instantaneously transform a room. Earlier in this article I suggested kicking off your program with a quick game of Name That Tune to lighten the mood and promote playful energy, but there are also creative ways to get dry, boring educational content across using music. Re-writing the words to iconic pop songs and then performing them in a fun, but contextual way in your educational sessions can be a great way to help guests lock-in learning and create awesome memories. You can also of course, use culturally appropriate music to set the tone for a destination, genre to set the theme and energy level, and volume to get people’s attention when a session is about to begin or when the dance floor is ready to ramp up!
Photo Credit: Engagement Unlimited
8. Choose Active over Static Entertainment
Use opportunities for entertainment as another way to create a playful story arc for your event and help draw people into an interactive experience. You can do this by incorporating pop-up performances (e.g. Improv Everywhere style spontaneous musicals), utilizing satellite stages (e.g. beautiful silk acts or snowboard simulators in the middle of your venue), or adding roving actors in character (think iconic Mounties to welcome guests to Canada with fake arrests for having too much fun, or Flappers and Gangsters offering beads and headpieces at a 1920s gala). Use entertainment to bring the event to life and play with your guests instead of putting a static act on a stage or throwing an ambient trio in the corner of a reception.
9. Give Everyone a Voice
Putting the power in the hands of the participants leaves all kinds of room for fun and playful design formats for education. Consider using fun tools like throwable microphones to promote interactive sessions or polling apps to determine which content is presented next. You could also use fun physical props like giant foam fingers and noise makers for voting or betting on correct answers. Putting more demand for active participation in fun ways will make your participants be more willing to let their voice be heard in a playful way.
10. Prime Participants with Positivity
The best way to create a playful attitude across your event is to set a positive, fun tone from the very beginning. Pay special attention to the way your event is marketed to prospective attendees and make sure that from the moment they walk over the threshold to your event to the first words from your opening keynote, there is encouragement to have fun, create memories, and make the most of your time together at the event. Make sure that successes are celebrated first and good news trumps all negativity in your speaker’s messaging for the best effect.
A playful attitude can and should be incorporated to even the most serious meetings. Whether it be outright activations/areas to let loose and have fun, or more sneaky infusions of fun educational formats or elements of surprise, play has a place at every event and should be taken into consideration at the beginning of your planning process.