Sometimes, meetings are actually fun. The fun ones are almost always informal, frequently creative and usually surprisingly productive. There's no way to guarantee that a particular meeting will in fact be fun. But there are ways to set the stage – just in case. The three strategies I've used time and time again? Toys, food and games.

Toys
Toys are the first and easiest to implement. A good meeting toy is like a rosary or a set of worry beads. It gives the individual a way to relieve tension, engage the senses and play. Since rosaries and worry beads have unworldly connotations, the next best thing is Silly Putty.

Yes, the same Silly Putty that has been around for 30 years. The clay-like stuff that bounces and stretches and picks up ink. Of course, now you can get Silly Putty in glow-in-the-dark colors but it still feels like putty. And it's still something that is clearly silly.

Or try Koosh Balls, in particular the new version made of rubber band-like loops that you can stretch and twirl and whirl. Like Silly Putty, Koosh balls keep the hands busy and the mind free.

Then there are magnetic marbles, which can lead to an infinite number of experimental games.

And of course, Tinker Toys! Give everyone a few pieces and encourage collaborative tinkering.

Food
There's a second strategy for having fun in the meeting room – brain food, mind candy, conceptual chewies. What are some favorites of mine and those I've worked with?

Pizza (says "fun," says "work")
Chocolate Kisses (another objective correlative)
M&Ms (have an untapped play value)
Veggies and dips (healthy, crunchy)

Games
The third strategy is the riskiest, most fun, energizing and unifying – games. There's one game in particular that's remarkably well-suited to meeting rooms. Even if it's played every time a meeting starts, it still remains fun time after time. Any number of players can participate, even late-comers to the meeting. It's called "Numbers" and here's how it works…

Everyone sits in a circle and is assigned a number beginning, naturally, with me. I'm Number One, person Number Two is to my right, person Number Three is to the right of Number Two, etc. Once everyone is assigned a number, I, as Number One, get to start the round. All I do is call a random number – and the only thing the person who's that number does is call another number. And that's how you play the game.

Simple? Well, almost.

You see, if someone actually does make a mistake, that person goes to the end of the circle (to my left) and takes the last number. And, just as logically, everyone who had a lower number has to move up one number. All those people, therefore, have a new number and are even more likely to make a mistake.

As the game continues, it becomes more important for each person to respond pretty much immediately. And this gives people yet another opportunity to make mistakes, change seats, switch numbers and simply get even more confused.

The game also works well for latecomers. When new participants join the meeting, they must take their position at the end of the sequence. Since people rarely call the last number (what's the point?) they aren’t really challenged to say or remember anything until someone makes a mistake. And, by that time, they pretty much understand what the game's all about.

The object, if there is one, is to become Number One since he’s the one who starts the round. The lower your number is then, the greater the challenge because your number gets called more often.

The game stops being fun if nobody makes a mistake. Then, you must make it harder. Begin by decreasing the delay tolerance, for example, especially once a mistake is made and people must change their numbers. My friend Charles Parsons has his own variation: "suppose the mistake-maker's number is removed from the game. For example, in a game with ten players, Number Six makes a mistake and now becomes Number Eleven. So there’s no longer a Number Six and everyone must remember this!"

Or, if you have a multilingual group, play it in, for example, Dutch.

Another game I like to play in meetings is called Thumper. It’s very much like Numbers and is actually often employed as a drinking game. Instead of using numbers, each player has a unique gesture. Go around the circle and give participants the opportunity to create a physical gesture such as batting their eyes, sticking out their tongues, shrugging their shoulders or pointing their fingers. Have everyone repeat each player's gesture in a genuine, but futile attempt to memorize them all.

The game proceeds the same as in Numbers. Player Number One starts by making someone else's gesture. That player must then, in the minimal reasonable time, make another player's gesture. And so on, and so on.

To really generate some fun in the meeting room, try playing both Numbers and Thumper at the same time… well, you can at least try.

Toys, Food, Games… So What?
What really makes a meeting fun? Productivity. Games are a great way to start a meeting, get everyone on an equal footing, tune-up the group mind and energize the body. They can help release stress and exercise our abilities to listen and respond intelligently. They can bring cross-functions, cross-disciplines and cross-purposes together in laughter.

But ultimately, what makes a meeting fun is its contribution to the success of the organization and the team, as well as the individualized and actualized success of the participants.

About Bernie DeKoven
Bernie has spent more than thirty years developing new games and technologies for collaboration.

As Dr. Fun/Staff Designer with Mattel Media, Bernie helped create the team and the products that helped Mattel earn $200 million in the first year. He also established an entirely new category of software, games for girls. He originated new game concepts, facilitated creative brainstorming meetings and worked with the entire staff to generate more fun at work.

Through Technography.com (http://www.technography.com), a consulting, training and publishing effort focused on improving the productivity and effectiveness of collaborative meetings, he published Deep Fun (http://www.deepfun.com), a book that business author Tom Peters has called "an ingenious blueprint for a communication and networking revolution." He also developed and produced the Meeting Meeter, a software taxi meter for meetings, which got the attention of Business Week, Fortune, the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Working Woman, US News and World Reports, NPR's Marketplace, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Examiner.

His Interplay Curriculum, a comprehensive program in self-esteem and social skills based on over 1000 children's games, is used in classrooms and playgrounds throughout the city of Philadelphia. For the Philadelphia Bicentennial, he designed and orchestrated Play Day on the Parkway, a community games event involving hundreds of thousands of celebrantors. His book, The Well Played Game (Doubleday, 1978), voiced a philosophy of "healthy competition" that formed the core teachings of the New Games Foundation.


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