Fun & Games

The gamification movement is riding high these days, especially for corporate meetings and events

Not too long ago, conducting successful business gatherings required equipment as old school as flip charts, projectors, and lots of 3-by-5-inch index cards. These days, it requires the modern alchemy of robust technology, highly accurate GPS tracking, and savvy social media. What’s more, a concept known as “gamification” is moving center stage and becoming a major element of meeting planning, presenting its own set of challenges and
rewards for gatherings.

Gamification is the art of encouraging attendee participation through the addition of game-like, fun elements to meetings and events. Opening icebreakers and short quizzes are popular examples. “Events are no longer just about the content or just about the people,” says event strategist Gianna Gaudini. “I believe it’s a combination that makes them successful.” Gaudini is also author of  “The Art of Event Planning.”  Her thought is echoed by Channing Moreland, entertainment strategist and co-founder of Eva, a platform that connects events with vetted entertainment.

Adding game-like elements to your event aids in encouraging participation and engagement || Photo by Studio Romantic, courtesy of Adobe

As someone who has experienced events-based gamification and incorporated various gamified elements into her own company’s gatherings, Moreland says the tide is rolling swiftly with greater game-related opportunities. “Now, more than ever, clients are asking for increasingly interactive and engaging experiences for their event attendees, and gamification is a great tool to do that,” she says.

Encourage Participation

While some planners and clients might shy away from the idea of replacing “business-first” meetings with events that include an element of fun, many contend that even seemingly lighthearted activities can yield measurable business results. There’s something serious going on behind all the smiles and laughter, Gaudini says. As the former head of events for Google, AWS, Airtable, and SoftBank Vision Fund, the event strategist has planned many events where experiences were gamified to drive business results. “Gamification works wonders because it creates engagement and a reason for people to pay attention and participate,” she says.

If you want success in putting together a gathering of humans, you need to think about how humans work, and that is where gaming can make a big difference—for a couple reasons, Gaudini says. “First, people can only retain a certain amount of information without taking a break. That’s why back-to-back keynotes for three hours no longer work as effectively as planning shorter sessions broken up with active breaks for networking, games, or relaxation.

“Second, it’s been proven that brains retain information best when it’s wrapped in a warm blanket of emotion or a story. Engaging activities mean emotions are heightened, so people will be more likely to retain the information, as well as more likely to participate and be engaged with those around them.”

Moreland agrees with this notion, adding that elements such as scavenger hunts and puzzles can foster connections, break the ice, and inject a sense of fun into the event environment, ultimately leading to more meaningful interactions and positive outcomes.

Be sure to include a variety of activities that will appeal to different personality types, says Heather Seasholtz, vice president of operations at CM Event Solutions, who has both planned and participated in gamified events. “I prefer offering both app-based games and in-person games because I feel that offering both maximizes inclusivity,” she says. “App-based games allow people to participate who may tend to be more introverted, while in-person games allow [face-to-face] interaction between attendees, a perk for conferences to create new connections.”

Also, allow for some drop-off in your planning, Seaholtz adds. “It’s important to set your expectations, because you’ll never get 100% of the people in any group participating in gamification.”

Hwansuk Chris Choi, a professor at the University of Guelph’s School of Hospitality, Food, and Tourism Management in Guelph, Ontario, has studied gamification within the events and travel industry and has identified several key personality types who are likely to be attracted to different aspects of gaming activities. These types are knowledge collectors, reward-seekers, explorers, curiosity-seekers, sensation-seekers, and flow experiencers.

“If you’re planning a meeting with mostly Generation Xers and millennials in attendance, it’s good to know that most of them are knowledge collectors,” he says, making trivia and similar activities good choices for these groups. “In contrast, Generation Zers have relatively diverse interests.”

What’s Next?

Moreland says, “Looking ahead, I anticipate that gamification capabilities will continue to evolve, driven by advancements in technology and a growing emphasis on attendee engagement. We can expect to see more sophisticated applications for how attendees can meet and interact.”

Gaudini adds, “I do think planners are realizing that in this content-saturated environment, events have a leg up over other marketing mediums by being able to engage all the senses experientially in a way other forms of marketing cannot do.”

Gamification Ideas

From simple to intricate, the types of activities planners can incorporate into the agenda are nearly endless and almost universally applicable to any group or participant. You likely have already integrated some of these activities into your events, but they all fall under the general heading of “gamification.”

  • Bingo
  • Icebreakers
  • Interactive badges
  • Leaderboards
  • Live polls and quizzes
  • Networking challenges
  • Puzzle-solving
  • QR code photo contests
  • Scavenger hunts
  • Social media walls
  • Trivia

Silly some might sound, but games and activities like these will help spark initial interactions among attendees to get conversations started and encourage the quieter participants to engage a bit more—which can make all the difference in creating an event that’s truly inclusive, memorable, and immersive.