When bringing up the subject, everyone tells some stories of horror: a congres that started with a briljant opening act, only to make people fall asleep right after that. Or the moment that participants are asked to engage in a belly-dance, making everyone very uncomfortable. Maybe the room full of people thinking "here we go again", when asked to massage the neck of the person one row in front of them. Or being forced into chatting with a random person one row behind you for no apparent reason.
On the other hand everyone knows that making learnings or information easy to digest helps ROI enormously. Here are some do's and don'ts on energizers and entertainment.
Make it about content
People will do – and like! – anything, as long as they understand the added value of it. So choose your energizing formats wisely and make sure there is a clear connection to the subject of the day, the learning at hand or the objective of that particular part in the program.
People will gladly engage in conversation with their neighbour, as long as you make it clear to them what is in it for them, at that moment in time.
Make it about design
The general rule is as blunt as it is simple: If you need energizers, the meeting isn't properly designed. Because let's be honest: on too many occassions, energizers and entertainment are just a cover-up for the fact that the programme sucks. But listen: people aren't stupid. They will be able to tell. This is exactly what makes participants hate energizers and subsequently: hate you and your event.
So invest in designing a briljant meeting that is energizing by nature. Make sure there's a constant change of formats, seatings etc, in combination with great content and learning, and you don't need to worry. If you make sure people love every step of the day, there will be energy .. even without energizers!
Make it hard work
We focus too much on having fun, where fun in itself is not what people are looking for. I mean, when you go to a bachelor party, then you look for fun. When you go to a conference, you look for content, learning, networking etc.
In general, hard work is what gives people energy. As long as the hard work is about their passion, problems and perspective. So if you are looking for new energy, look beyond fun and make them sweat for new energy. If you're not sure about this one, think of it as going to the gym: sure you will be tired. But that's a good, energetic form of tired.
Make it about them
Let yourself be guided by your participants. Observe and see what it is théy need. If you feel energy going down, act. And when you act, make sure you come to understand your crowd. If you do, you will know what the best way is to give these people new energy. It is about truely connecting to them.
And if you make it about them, you will learn not to take it too far, too quickly. At the end of a three day conference, even belly-dancing might be okay. But at the start, people in general simply don't feel safe enough to act silly in front of a few hundred strangers!
Make it about that day
What worked yesterday will not always work today. So stop doing your same favorite routine every time. Build a toolkit of excercises and choose the right tool for the right moment. You wouldn't use a hammer to cut paper, right!?
So, look at the context, the topic, the crowd and choose accordinghly. Alternate concepts and make up new ones along the way.
Make it about the moment
Energizing is not something you can fully plan. Energy is something you need to act on, when called for. Keep observing, and act.|
So, massages will hardly ever work. But even for this corny concept, there will be a right moment every once in a while.
Make it about the perfect ending
The closing act should be more then just a way to wake people up before drinks, or to reward them for not leaving early. It should help the day to an effective conclusion. Therefor the ideal conference closer is cheerful, positive, connective, sharp and summarizing the outcomes.
The closing stages are not the best time to open wounds (without time to stitch). So why put a stand-up comedian on stage, insulting all or a dance act, adressing no one? The best acts actually know and understand what meetings do. If you get a stand-upper or any closing artist, make sure you hire one that knows how to uplift your meeting.
Design well, and there will be less need for energizers and entertainment. If you use them, make sure they really add something to content, communication and connection.
Jan-Jaap In der Maur