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5 Ways to Incorporate More Play into your Next Presentation

“You can learn more about someone in an hour of play than you can in a year of working with them.” Every time I hear Kevin Carroll say those words, I have renewed energy to get creative and incorporate more “play” into my own presentation design.

When I think about incorporating play into presentation design, I’m not thinking about waste-my-learners’-time-with-some-silly-game-that-doesn’t-have-anything-to-do-with-anything type of play. I’m thinking about the-audience-learns-while-at-the-same-time-thinking-this-is-fun-and-oh-wait-I’m-learning-something-too type of play.

If you’re looking for new ways to engage your audience, maybe incorporating some more play can be helpful for your next presentation design. Here are five examples of how I’ve seen play effectively incorporated into presentation design:

In an icebreaker.

Icebreakers are often associated with play. And if they’re done well, there’s a learning component, too. Last year at a big meeting, I watched as my company’s CEO led an activity in which 80 people in a room were broken into small groups, and each group was given a tennis ball. The groups were tasked with seeing how fast every member of the small group could pass the ball from one person to the next. Attendees included prominent surgeons and business leaders. The room was abuzz. People like to play no matter how old they are or how important their job may seem. Our CEO concluded the activity by connecting various strategies and solutions from this icebreaking activity to the overall meeting theme of innovation.

In a room of 2,000 people.

In a recent article on the importance of “priming” your learners to make it more likely they’ll later retain your content, Art Kohn offers the example of having someone say the word “silk” ten times, then asking the question: what do cows drink? (The answer, by the way, is not milk.) I’ve seen a similar strategy – having the audience say or do something from their seats – used in a keynote address to 2,000 people. It was a quick activity. Everyone participated. Everyone laughed when they realized cows drink water, not milk. And the speaker had everyone’s attention.

In a roomful of people not accustomed to participating.

Sometimes I’m asked to design a presentation to be given to an audience that’s not used to being called on to participate and it would be well beyond their comfort zone to get up and move around. Instead of defaulting to lecture, this is a situation in which I like to use some PowerPoint tricks to get people engaged. I’ll set up a Family Feud style board and I’ll ask the audience for responses. Instead of the typical PowerPoint animation that forces the presentation into a pre-determined order, the Family Feud-style slide allows the presenter (and the audience) to decide dynamically what information will appear on the screen next.

Poll them… and keep score.

In a Bob Pike Group training session I attended earlier in the year, facilitator extraordinaire Scott Enebo not only used PollEverywhere to get the entire room participating, he gave points for correct responses on his polls/quizzes. It added an element of (friendly) competition and kept things interesting throughout the 2-day workshop.

In sucking them into case studies.

In the movie Tron, Jeff Bridge’s character gets sucked into and becomes part of a video game. In Ruth Kravitz’s training room, learners get sucked into the world of child welfare, becoming part of her case study activities. Different from role play, learners are given small bits of information and need to use their previous knowledge on the topic and the information they’ve been given in order to determine what additional information they need and to make recommendations on the next steps of a given foster care case. If anybody in her training class is checking their smart phone, it’s not because they’re reading their email or watching cat videos on YouTube… it’s because they’re frantically searching for additional information that could help them on their case study.

How are you incorporating play into your presentation design?

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