Turn your Trade Show into a FUNvention
by Ronald P. Culberson, MSW, CSP
Director of Everything!, FUNsulting, etc.
I showed up the night before my presentation to the Florida Division of the American Cancer Society and made my way to the ballroom for dinner. In the lobby, I encountered a man in a leopard outfit. As I turned the corner on the second floor, I saw a woman dressed up as a lion. I immediately checked my contact sheet to make sure I was in the right location.
It turns out that the theme for the evening was “Welcome to the Jungle”, and the meeting planners had organized team skits, a Tarzan yelling competition and a “Jane” costume contest for men only! The evening was a rousing success with lots of humor and a wonderful sense of camaraderie.
Researchers have referred to humor as a social lubricant because of the way it brings people together and helps to reduce tension. Since trade shows and conventions are for bringing people together, any activity that generates laughter is a great addition to the typical conference agenda. Here are examples to turn the mundane into fundane:
Make routine activities funny
Fairfax County, Virginia's Public Library has a funny nametag contest for their 600 person Staff Day. The winning name tag design is used for the event. Tag, you're it!
Lou Heckler, a speaker and coach from Gainesville, Florida attended a convention where the “talk of the conference” was a buffet breakfast table backed up to a “stage” of risers. On the stage was a full bedroom scene complete with a nightstand, lamps, chair, dresser and a bed with a real person in it. The participants assumed the person was a mannequin until they approached the buffet and the person said, “Good morning!” I wonder if her name was Muffin?
During the breaks between general sessions, one government agency showed photos taken at the conference and added funny captions. Two minutes before the start of each session, the music from Jeopardy would begin playing and a timer would count down the time to the session. Before long the attendees were laughing at the photos and humming to the Jeopardy tune. Are you game for something like that?
Design funny group activities around the conference theme
Midge Dobbs from Meeting Professionals International's Oregon Chapter participated in “Survivor, Meeting Professional Style” at her association conference. To encourage teamwork among these meeting professionals, “survivor teams” had a competition to set up the main ballroom for dinner complete with chairs, linen, silverware and china. A fun activity and no one had to eat bugs!
The Maryland Community College for Continuing Education horsed around by sponsoring a virtual horse race using a video program of actual horse races. Participants competed by betting on their favorite horses with prizes going to the teams who won the most races. And with a video, no one had to clean up after the horses!
Oivia Immerman at Voila Meeting and Event Management helped design a competition for a high tech company in which each team used wigs, jewelry and make up to become a musical group. The teams selected a name, created a logo and then developed a choreographed lip sync performance for the rest of the attendees. A video of the performances was produced for the entire company.
Use humor experts to participate in your events
Dale Irvin, a professional speaker provides Five Minute Funnies throughout an event in which he humorously summarizes presentations made during general sessions. He also organizes real time games shows like Family Feud and Survivor using information that participants were “supposed” to learn during the conference.
Brad Montgomery, a humorist and speaker has used magic as a way to bring attention to trade show booths.
Janet Delph, from EXPERT Magazine, reported that CNN Headline News anchor Bob Losure used a talk show format (instead of the typical farmal speech) to interview top executives in a general session at the 2003 OfficeMax national convention. The 1100 attendees rated it the best session ever. Though this is not just about humor, it is about a fun way to share information about the company through unique and entertaining format.
Using activities to evoke laughter and fun at conventions is a powerful way to keep participants engaged and excited about being there. If done correctly, the conference or trade show will be a memorable one.
Copyright 2005 by Ron Culberson. Reprinted with permission. Ron Culberson, Director of Everything! at FUNsulting, etc., is a speaker, humorist, author of Is Your Glass Laugh Full? and former hospice social worker whose mission is to work with organizations that want their people to lighten up by using humor to minimize stress and maximize effectiveness. He is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), the highest earned award from the National Speakers Association, and is one of less than 7% of speakers worldwide who have received this designation. He has provided entertaining and informative programs to over 70,000 people in more than 600 associations, government agencies, non-profit organizations and Fortune 500 companies. Reach Ron at www.Funsulting.com