Does fun play a role in your meeting agenda?

Ways to boost engagement and excitement that will leave your attendees smiling from ear to ear

For meetings planners, it's important to make the most of any opportunity for fun.

NEW YORK - Many think of work and play like they do oil and water - the two don't mix. But injecting a bit of fun into a meeting is an excellent idea, says corporate comedian and emcee Harry Freedman.

"A boring meeting can be likened to a near-death experience for everyone involved," he warned. "Unfortunately, the longer a conference goes on, the greater the loss in productivity, attention span and content retention."

Humans instinctively work and function productively and with less stress if they know, enjoy and trust the experience and individuals they are interacting with. The problem is that in a hectic world - and within a packed meeting agenda - there are often few opportunities to add fun and relaxed interaction into the mix.

In a 2017 Harvard Business Review survey of 182 senior managers in a range of industries across the nation, 62% of respondents said corporate meetings miss the mark on bringing attendees closer together with fun and engaging experiences.

It's important to make the most of any opportunity for fun, it seems. According to the Journal of Business and Psychology, "Although a sustained happy mindset is optimal, even a very brief episode of fun can boost productivity". One JBP study, Examining the Energising Effects of Humour, found that watching a funny video before doing a work-related exercise boosted participants' performance by 12%.

The results suggest that just a few laughs make us more engaged. So if you aren't taking the idea of fun seriously, it's time you start.

Avoid forced funtime

When it comes to filling out the meeting agenda, Wayne Turmel, co-founder of Remote Leadership Institute, says there's a difference between incorporating fun activities -- interactions that make the event enjoyable - and "fluff" - activities designed to make attendees feel better but which don't add any value in the process.

"Fun is allowing time within event sessions for attendees to make jokes or digress for short periods of time in the interest of helping people feel relaxed and comfortable with each other," Mr Turmel explained. "Communication and productivity flow better when attendees know how to approach other meeting-goers at a comfortable level, and nothing reveals more about someone than what they find funny or enjoyable."

But it's crucial to understand one's audience, as activities designed to force fun can easily fall flat. "Fluff is mandating something like an ice-breaker exercise that has no bearing on the overall meeting goal. Fluff is distracting and counterproductive," Mr Turmel added.

Heather Matusiak, senior account executive for Destination Concepts Inc., noted that fun can be as much about levity as it is increasing audience comfort level. "Many times, conference material is heavy," she pointed out.

"Extensive training on new processes or corporate updates are tough to digest and might leave attendees feeling like they have an impossible mountain to climb. Infusing meaningful fun gives attendees a chance to switch gears, take it down a notch or recharge after a heavy day of decisions, content or information overload.

"What fun should not be is thoughtless, or something that doesn't enhance the attendee experience," she continued. "It should be relevant to the meeting purpose and culture."

Fun the right way 

The theme for ASAE's 2019 Annual Meeting in Columbus, Ohio, was to learn and play with purpose. "From the colourful designs of the main stage to content covered by speakers and throughout the ceremonies and sessions, attendees were compelled to consider new and exciting ways to do business within their own associations," said Susan Robertson, interim president & CEO.

"Fun is an important element in learning and retaining information," sums up Robb Lee, ASAE's chief marketing and communications officer. "It's a way to contextually connect an individual to an experience in a memorable way. We related the concept of fun to our annual meeting to access the enjoyable aspects of learning in combination with the connections attendees make when they reconnect with colleagues and explore new relationships."

SOURCE: Northstar Meetings Group

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