When's the last time you laughed during a meeting? I don't mean a sardonic chuckle in response to a mind-numbingly boring presentation--I'm taking about uncontrollable, eyes-watering, almost-peed-your-pants laughter.
Okay, if that question's too hard, how about smiling? Have you been to a meeting lately where you've really enjoyed yourself, to the point where you left the room with a smile on your face?
See; this is the problem. In most organizations, meetings have become painful ordeals, not rewarding experiences.
The good news is that there's one three-letter word you can use that will dramatically improve every meeting--even a meeting in progress that shows all the signs of being a horrible failure. That word is FUN.
"Wait a minute," I hear you say. "Meetings are serious business. As a matter of fact, Alison, I recall that you've written about the importance of setting objectives to make sure that meetings accomplish something significant."
True, but just because your meeting has a critical purpose doesn't mean it has to be a downer. In fact, lightening the mood releases energy, allowing participants to think more creatively and solve problems more effectively.
If that's the case, why don't more organizers use fun as a technique to improve meetings? I can't tell you. What I can share is that colleagues at my firm have worked hard to inject fun into almost every session we plan, from staff meetings to client town halls. Here are 5 techniques we've used recently:
Break the ice. Cynical corporate veterans roll their eyes when someone says "ice breaker," but they're wrong. Starting the meeting with a participative exercise actually does warm people up and get them engaged. One ice-breaker I've used successfully is called "Find Someone Bingo." Provide each participant with a pen and Bingo card that lists interesting traits like "plays piano, "has twins," "drives a hybrid." Participants have seven minutes to mingle and find people who match the traits on the card. When participants find a match, they ask the person to initial the square. People cannot initial more than one square on the same paper. The winner is: the first person to fill five boxes across or down and yells Bingo, or the person with the most squares at the end.
BMW. If you've got a group of people who are anxious or frustrated about an issue, this exercise--named for the initials in Bitch, Moan and Whine--helps manage that stress. Give participants sticky notes and let them write as many complaints or concerns about the topic as they can think of. Post all of them up, and agree to address two or three, then let the rest go.
Every Crazy Idea. What if there were no constraints and we could solve the problem however we wanted to? Break out into teams of two or three and ask participants to go crazy. When they share their ideas, discuss which elements of these could be applied to practical solutions.
You get the picture--move from static, boring presentations to an energizing experience where participants can actually have fun.