Many of us think of play and work as being like oil and water; they don’t mix. But a bit of play during the workday or at a corporate meeting oils the mental wheels that keep productivity flowing.
Like kids in a classroom, adults attending business sit-and-get gatherings may begin to feel a crazy mix of restlessness and lethargy. Feet stir restlessly or eyes cross sleepily as participants struggle to make sense of what speakers are saying. Instead of getting the news, you get the snooze.
But a bit of corporate humor, laughter, movement, and face-to-face interaction can wake up participants in business meetings.
Studies About Workplace Humor
Three reports published in January 2017 indicate that corporate event planning should consider how humor improves productivity in the workplace.
- Robert Half Finance and Accounting commissioned a survey of corporate financial officers from a random sample of companies nationwide to learn about viewpoints on employee humor. Results showed that 79 percent of the CFOs rated sense of humor as being an important factor in determining an employee’s corporate fit.
- According to an Australian study, it appears that employees may be more likely to persevere at difficult tasks if they can take an occasional break to watch funny video clips. It appears that short mental breaks improve performance and persistence.
- An article in Scientific American detailed a study about workplace humor by academic researchers in Amsterdam and Nebraska. The study is titled “How fun are your meetings? Investigating the relationship between humor patterns in team interactions and team performance.” Scientific American noted that instead of distracting meeting participants, humor encouraged problem-solving and discussions of procedure and goal setting.
The idea that laughter and fun improve function is one that managers and meeting planners for all sizes of corporations should — ahem — take seriously. As Scientific American states, “Americans collectively spend time in an estimated 11 million meetings each day….” That figure represents a massive challenge to keeping people alert.
In addition to opportunities for laughter, breaks for movement and interaction help keep participants paying attention.
Movement & Interaction
As the publication Meetings Imagined notes, “No one likes to sit in the same place or hold the same posture for too long.” It adds that movement speeds up learning, aids retention of learning and promotes creative thinking.
Similarly, leadership curriculum designer Shirley Milgrom says that adults lose focus while sitting still too long in meetings. Milgrom suggests breaking meetings into chunks no longer than a TED Talk (18 minutes) and offering options for movement during, as well as following these presentations.
For example, Milgrom suggests that after making a point, a speaker can ask people who want to ask questions to walk to one side of the room. No questions? Then move to the other side of the room. When the talk is over, she suggests directing participants to move to a different spot, find a partner and share thinking about the presentation.
A Funny & Professional Emcee
If the meeting budget allows, you may want to hire a professional comedian or corporate entertainer to handle transitions between different speakers and to help lead movement breaks beginning with icebreakers. Hiring a professional emcee or comedian can also take some of the burdens off of your event planning team and help you focus on other aspects of your conference.
Insurance & Financial Meetings Management magazine notes note that “meeting planners can use professional comedians to reinforce meeting goals by blending humor with key themes and topics.”
The publication also mentions that improvement of the economy has made it possible for more meeting planners to get the green light to hire comedians as performers and emcees for corporate gatherings.
Ways to Get Your Group Laughing, Moving and Learning
Here are some movement activities and corporate comedy strategies to keep your meeting attendees on their toes.
Salt and Pepper. As with charades, this is a good activity for honing questioning skills. It’s also a useful icebreaker for the beginning of a meeting. As attendees enter the meeting, tape a single word that is part of a pair (salt and pepper, light and dark, leaf and flower) to each person’s back. They can’t see their own word, but they can see other players’ words. The goal is for players to determine their words by asking other people questions and listening to the clues they provide.
Speed Meeting. This activity is modeled after speed dating but is focused on networking within the company rather than finding people to date. Each speed meeting lasts only two minutes, so participants must scramble to become more familiar with fellow employees and their work.
Human Knot. Ask participants to form circles in groups of eight. Each person grabs hands with two other people. Then, as a team, they need to work to unravel the knot. Watch the YouTube video below to see how the human knot is played.
Improvisation is stand-up comedy without a script. Many of the exercises involved in becoming an improv comic are also useful for teaching important corporate skills such as acceptance of outcomes, working together to improve outcomes, listening closely, taking risks, responding speedily and supporting members of your team.
For example, a simple improvisation might involve a group of five or more people standing in a circle and rapidly telling a story one person and one word at a time. It takes cooperation to keep the story going. No one gets to hijack the process.
Hiring a comedian or a comedy troupe to provide corporate improv training has become a standard practice touted in business publications. Learning improvisational exercises not only gets everyone laughing but also sharpens skills that are just as valuable in business as on stage.
Clean Comedian, Comfortable Humor
No matter how you decide to add humor to your event, it is important to remember that you want it to have a positive impact on your attendees. Keep the activities lighthearted and the humor clean and good spirited.
In its blog, the Robert Half corporation advises avoiding “negative humor, which can be defined as any joke that is at the expense of another person, organization or group of people.” It emphasizes that “race, gender, sex, age, national origin, sexual orientation, religion and disabilities” are topics that are off limits.
So bring on the laughs, but be remember to keep your HR manager happy!