You Cannot be Serious! Why Events are the Perfect Adult Playground

There are certain types of events such as sports, music festivals and comedy shows which are designed for people to come together and play. However, there are other types of events, such as conferences and trade shows, that we don’t usually think of as play.

In this article, we look at the bigger picture of events as play and ask what it would be like if we designed conferences, trade shows and corporate events as playgrounds for adults. How would this shift in context change the way we design our event experiences?

Why events are the perfect adult palyground

When planning a conference the savvy meeting professional will first get clear on the intended outcome of the meeting. In other words, they will get really clear on WHY this event is being hosted in the first place. In most cases the WHY will include items such as education, training, dissemination of ideas, networking and making a profit.

The WHY of our events becomes the context for everything we do. It’s the compass for all future planning and decision making. The WHY is often a serious matter: learning, training, expanding business opportunities and making money. But, what if it wasn’t?

What if the whole point of events was not serious at all. What if we shifted our view and saw conferences as adult playgrounds in which new ideas come alive? In this article we explore why we would make that kind of shift and what becomes possible when we view events as an opportunity for adults to come together and play.

Play at Events

Play is present at most events, whether we acknowledge it as such or not. Even the most dry and serious of conferences will include light humour at some point. As a speaker at academic conferences I learnt that even the weakest joke will illicit a laugh if the audience has been previously starved of humour.

Humour, music, games and entertainment are commonly found at events. For example, there may be a golf tournament before or afterward the main conference in order to create the opportunity for more relaxed and ad hoc networking.

While play is often included at conferences, it is rarely formulated as the context for the whole meeting. Play is what we do ‘after hours’ when we are not engaged with the serious business of learning. However, when we look back we may notice that many of our best conversations, connections and ideas happened during the ‘down time’ between sessions.

Here we look at some of the benefits of making play the context for our whole event rather than an add-on.

Relief from Stress

For many attendees events can be stressful experiences. First of all there are the physical demands of travel and being away from home. On top of that there are the social demands of meeting new people, engaging in small talk and absorbing the educational content.

Play creates an altered state of mind. Play relieves stress, promotes relaxation and creates an instant sense of well being. All the intended outcomes of the meeting are more likely to be achieved in this state of mind.

Freedom from the Fear of Failure

While many of us take play and game-playing seriously, we also know that losing goes with the territory. When we play games we don’t have to deal with our fear of failure. In stark contrast, in the ‘real world’ the fear of failure is a constant companion.

The fear of failure is perhaps the biggest killer of inspiration, creativity and innovation. Many of us are so scared of failure that we don’t even start on new projects, ventures and business ideas. Fear of failure constrains us and limited our ability to solve problems.

Creative, innovative people fail often. Studies of creative geniuses like Mozart, Darwin and Edison have shown they embarked on many ideas and projects that failed. What sets them apart from the rest of us is that they didn’t let failure stop them.

When we play we are not scared of failure. Play provides a safe environment where we can experiment and try things out without fear of looking foolish.
If we were to design our events as playgrounds the result would be a safe arena for innovation and inspiration to flourish.

Stimulate the Mind and Boost Creativity

Events provide an opportunity to suspend reality. We are immersed in new ideas, new people and a new environment. There is an opportunity to leave behind our regular ways of thinking and doing and to try something new.

Children learn best when they are playing, and that principle applies to adults as well. People learn most effectively when they are in a relaxed and playful frame of mind. Play stimulates the imagination and boosts problem-solving.

If we reformulated our events as adult playgrounds, we could create the optimum conditions for learning, imagination, curiosity and experimentation.

Improved Relationships and Connection

Play is a great ice-breaker. Laughter, fun and games create trust, compassion and intimacy with others and help us to work together.

Play teaches us co-operation, how to work together in a team and how to follow rules. Play breaks down barriers and provides the opportunity to discover our strengths and weaknesses in a safe environment.

Networking is one of the cornerstones of most conferences. If we shift context and re-frame networking as social play it instantly sounds more fun, more engaging and has the potential to be way more effective.

In Conclusion: Context is Decisive

What would it look like to design your next event from a different WHY? What if your event was a playground in which big new ideas come alive?

A shift in context can radically alter our view of a situation and lead to breakthrough results. By viewing your event as a playground the focus shifts from networking lunches and listening to speakers to creating a safe space for creativity, innovation, brilliance and collaboration.

I, for one, would be excited to go to that kind of conference!

About The Author
Cathy Key
Dr Cathy Key has been working in the event technology industry since 2002. During this time she worked side-by-side with meeting planners and built her own successful conference software platform. She is now an independent consultant and writer for Online Registration Review.
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Julius Solaris
Editor, Julius Solaris

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