Planning a major meeting? If the agenda consists of nothing more than presentation after presentation, you know what's going to happen: Participants will struggle to stay awake. Most people will multitask or just pretend to pay attention. And even if the topics are of vital importance, it will be a struggle to get the focus and energy you need.

There are many ways to improve a meeting. For example, develop objectives that create focus. And rethink the way the room is arranged.

And here's a technique that takes a little work but is always worth the effort: Enliven the meeting with activities that are interactive, involving--and even fun. Exercises can be used to break the ice--get everyone warmed up at the beginning of the meeting--or to pump up participants when energy flags after lunch.

Best of all, these exercises not only add pizazz, they also give participants a chance to get to know one another.

Here are 8 exercises that build comradery, make your meeting livelier and create focus:

  1. How did you get your name? One of the simplest ice-breaker exercises that provides an insight about each participant. Ask each participant to introduce himself/herself and share how his/her first name was chosen. Most people have a little story to tell involving family traditions, their parents' thinking or even how a person renamed himself/herself to fit his/her true personality.
  2. Vote with your feet. This exercise gets people out of their seats and reveals either a fact about each person (like where he/she is from) or lets participants express a point of view (like how close each person is to his/her family.) Depending on the meeting room, you can either create zones--this corner of the room represents the Western U.S., that corner represents the East--or create a line at the center of the room. Ask participants to move to the area of the room that best represents where he/she "stands" on that issue. Then discuss what you notice.
  3. The six-word story. Inspired by Ernest Hemingway's famous six-word tale--"For sale: baby shoes, never worn,"--the idea is to ask participants to sum up an aspect of their lives in just six words. Start by creating a few sample stories, then introduce the exercise and give each person a few minutes to compose his/her own story. Then go around the room and ask each person to introduce himself/herself and share his/her story. You get some really interesting little snippets. It makes for interesting conversations during the introductions, as well as throughout the rest of the meeting.
  4. B-I-N-G-O. Not your grandmother's game, this is a way to encourage participants to get to know each other, especially when you have a large group. Here's how: Prior to the meeting, ask participants to submit one or more personal or professional facts about themselves. Use the facts (without names) to create bingo cards. At the start of the meeting, hand out the cards. Ask participants to find colleagues, during breaks, who match each fact. Every time a match is found, the colleague initials the square. When participants complete a row--horizontal, vertical or diagonal--they submit their card and win a prize.
  5. Quick draw. Cover each table with butcher paper and provide crayons or markers. Ask each person to draw a picture to represent three parts of his/her life; for example, job, hobby and where you live (can be any combination depending how well the participants know each other and the focus of the meeting). Each person quickly reviews his/her drawing and when there are connections, everyone draws lines to link images. For example, two people like to canoe or three people live in the same town. Hang the posters in the meeting room during the rest of the meeting so everyone can see the creative drawings.
  6. Lights, camera, action! Participants have a chance to make a live-action commercial that they act out. Break participants out into groups of five to eight people. Provide each team with a kit, including a story board template, a box of props, flip chart paper and markers. Create an assignment that fits the objectives of your meeting: For example, the meeting is focused on customer service, ask teams to create a 30-second commercial on how a function or team can improve customer service. After each team designs the commercial, team members act it out. (To record the brilliant work, you can video each performance.)
  7. Low-tech social network. Ask participants to draw an avatar of themselves on an index card and write two "tags" about who they are or what they are interested in. Each participant sticks his/her card to wall and finds people they know. Using yarn, they connect their avatars to colleagues they know to show their connections. Encourage participants to spend time looking at the board to see connections, then seeking those people at breaks to network.
  8. Arts and crafts. Break participants into small groups and provide them with a box full of zany art supplies. (Think glitter pens, smiley-face stickers, puffy paint and the like.) Ask each group to create a poster using the art supplies to visually explain an issue. For example: What do our customers need most? How can we be more innovative? What does our competitive landscape look like? After everyone is done, ask a representative from each group to explain its poster to all participants.