Here’s hoping 2022 is a time for reconnecting. After two years of upheaval, disruption and limited in-person interaction, being able to get together with peers and co-workers will be more important than ever, so think about planning activities and events that make conversations and connection not only easier also more fun. Here are five ways to bring groups back together to share ideas and challenges, dreams and disappointments with one another again.
Get out to invigorate
Apparently, few of us get outdoors enough — by one estimate, most Americans spend 90% of their time indoors — and that can be especially true at meetings. As you bring people together, take them outdoors. A dose of fresh air and sunshine can ease stress, anxiety, depression, generally get the brain and body working better and, in the process, make us more likely to interact. One easy option is a scavenger hunt; many CVBs have a template or even an app available for starters. Or devise your own, choosing a walkable route downtown or an attraction like a zoo or botanical garden, and then supply clues and riddles. Have teams snap group photos as they introduce themselves to a police officer or stop at a coffee shop and squeeze together on a couch a la “Friends.” Maybe even have them sing the show’s theme song. Add a do-good element, and arm teams with a garbage bag and gloves so they can pick up trash along their route. Tons of scavenger hunt ideas are available online to spark ideas and imaginations.
Inspired questions elevate table talk
Meals can be missed opportunities for making new connections because even at a round table, it’s hard to talk to everyone. Plus, we all tend to sit with people we know when we can. Break up the cliques in some simple fashion, and then supply tables with four or five thought-provoking, entertaining questions. Here’s a good one: “Tell us something surprising about yourself that not everyone knows.” I ask this question a lot, and it always opens the door to great conversations, like the time a school board member told me about her metal-detecting hobby. Another good one for association or business gatherings: “Recommend a recent book that you’ve read, and explain what it taught you.” For religious gatherings: “Did your family have a favorite prayer or ritual for special occasions? Tell us about it.” Come up with four or five, and then watch as everyone at the table becomes engaged and conversations flourish.
Good causes build camaraderie
Nothing builds camaraderie like banding together to do good for others. And in every city, nonprofit organizations need help. Although there are a sizable number of websites geared at connecting those who want to help with those who need help — VolunteerMatch might be the best known — convention and visitors bureaus are often the best source for meeting planners. Their convention services teams are typically tied in with area nonprofits and know which need help and which are the best fits for a convention group’s abilities and schedule. Volunteering comes in all forms, and it doesn’t always require leaving the conference venue. Groups can pack food boxes or care kits for the homeless, help tend community gardens, help paint a mural, collect litter, plant trees, organize clothes for clothing banks or serve meals at shelters.
Create space, then step back
Sometimes, encouraging connection requires only providing the space and tools to allow people to build bonds in an organic way, no orchestration and direction required. For example, hotel and convention center preconference areas can become living rooms and rec rooms. Put out a few items that will draw people in, like jigsaw puzzles, decks of cards or Trivial Pursuit games. In Fort Wayne, Indiana, the convention center has created oversized games like Rubik’s Cubes for attendees to play with. Put video screens to work showing pictures from past conferences, or if your audience has a predominance of pet lovers, display submitted photos of people’s dogs, cats, guinea pigs and turtles. Have venue staff or other impartial judges pick some winners, and as prizes, make donations to local animal shelters in the pet’s honor. For more active engagement, have basketball free-throw or golf-putting contests, or put out some cornhole games and watch the bean bags — and the banter — fly.
Virtual is still a reality
Virtual meetings lack a lot of the virtues of in-person meetings, but we’ve learned that Zoom and other platforms have their place. Going forward, they won’t always be the first choice, but they’ve demonstrated such value that planners should give thought to how to creatively employ them. Might Zoom be the way to keep association boards or sales teams connected beyond their in-person meetings, perhaps with “special,” more socially oriented events? A ton of companies have emerged through the pandemic that provide custom virtual experiences, from making mixed drinks, building bridges with Legos, trying to survive being stranded at the North Pole, stepping back to school days with show and tell, hosting a book club or solving a murder mystery.