What Angry Birds and Righteous Pigs Teach us about Meeting Design

By Andrea Driessen, Chief Boredom Buster, No More Boring Meetings

More than 250 million people have downloaded the game Angry Birds. Every day, humans worldwide collectively spend about 200 million minutes playing this game on our mobile devices. Nearly 4 million “Like” it on Facebook.

In a world of time-starved business people, a vast chunk of us find time for an admittedly silly game, a pastime that has us fully engaged and focused for hours at a time. (Full disclosure: I love to play too!)

What’s going on?? What makes this digital interface so compelling that gamers can’t stop interacting with it? Wouldn’t you like just some of those folks to read your emails? And just SOME of that engagement and energy at your meetings?

Let’s see what Angry Birds game teaches us about designing more captivating meetings filled with more focused meeting goers.

The Power of Story

Knowing why the Birds are Angry (they stole the birds’ eggs, and they’re….mad!) gives the game some context and an added layer of fun.

The same holds true for a well-designed meeting, which tells a unified, compelling story with a captivating arc and interesting characters, dialog and plot.

What story does your meeting tell? Does it have a clear and compelling beginning? Plot twists that create positive surprise? A suspenseful, clear and high-energy conclusion? What specific roles do each of your participants-as-characters play in the telling of your organizational tale—before, during and after the meeting?

We humans are wired for story-telling and story-listening. That’s why paying attention to your event’s narrative will get and keep participants engaged. Can meeting participants retell your story effectively and passionately? Are they actively involved with how to be “on the same page” with your organizational objectives—or do they just check out to check email?

Anticipation and Surprise

Angry Birds, like any good game, becomes incrementally harder the more you play. We are met at our skill level—plus a bit more. And the more we learn, the more challenges we get. A skill gap and the desire to improve keep us engaged.

Meetings are mediocre when participants are given little or no new insight or challenges to solve. Boring agendas often consist of retelling the same information that everyone already knows. No wonder they disengage (and play Angry Birds quietly in the back of the room).

Yet UNBORING meetings feature fresh insights, new ways of working and important people connections that could never be experienced virtually. Meeting goers are paying attention because they’re learning and applying new insights to solve new problems.

According to Work Happy Now blogger Karl Staib: “People quickly get addicted to [Angry Birds] because it challenges them on different levels. When you can anchor into a wide range of emotions – anger, joy, frustration, and love – you keep people wanting more.”

Indeed, Angry Birds—like a great meeting—taps the power of anticipation. How will you surprise your audience with unexpected guests, new information they don’t know and yet NEED, reasons to meet in person that they can’t get on the Internet, Twitter or Facebook?

A juicy example of integrating anticipation into an event: SHRM staged a powerful surprise at a 20,000-attendee convention. Their Random Acts of Conference Kindness (ROCK!) segments fostered interaction and happy surprise—without without a hefty price tag. Lisa Block, SHRM’s director of meetings explained: Out of nowhere, staff appeared bearing gifts. They came, they delivered, they disappeared. Mugs, T-shirts, Starbucks cards, free cab rides to the airport, front row seats for keynote sessions. And all the winners got a “ROCK’d” ribbon to commemorate the occasion. The campaign cost under $5,000, including ribbons for recipients [that’s less than 25 cents a person!].

Maximizing Multi-Sensory Impact

Like any video game worth a few million downloads, Angry Birds has distinct sounds, vibrant visuals and an easy-to-use interface. Players are involved with their eyes, ears and hands.

When you design meetings, how do you purposefully honor our many ways of absorbing information? Or are attendees just that—attending—sitting passively in their seats listening; seeing some (or way too many) slides? Next time, get everyone actively involved—with all their senses–in creating content themselves, interacting with and learning from one another. Include music, sound effects, kinesthetic experiences and even scent to boost learning and allow for new and surprising ways to absorb information.

You can even try darkened dining. This multi sensory experience has diners eating in a darkened space. It allows the audience to tap taste, smell and touch with a deep sense of focus. We all have so much information coming at us. Mostly at our heads, and much less to our kinesthetic sides.  So with a sensory experience like this, you immediately broaden how people experience your organization—and build enormous buzz, too.

Win, Reward—and PING! You’re at the Next Level

Meetings in which little or no progress is felt can seem to drone on with no end in sight. Instead, give your audience a clear picture of where you’re headed, and what your meeting is accomplishing. You can go as far as posting a meeting check list, with clear milestones. And as time goes, visually and audibly show that you have in fact reached these hurdles. Even small wins, accompanied by public acknowledgement (a tangible reward, an audible ping, a loud bell), can—in the language of a good video game—move us to the Next Level.

Broken Birds, Broken Rules

Angry Birds breaks a number of gaming rules. It replaces fast with clever, for example. (For a fascinating review of the cognitive aspects of Angry Birds, read Certified Human Factors Engineering Professional Charles L. Mauro’s blog post here )

So, what rules can you break in your meetings? Not for the sake of rebellion—but to stage a more effective, memorable experience. For example:

  • Do you really need chairs? What if everyone sat on exercise balls instead?
  • Who says you must begin with the spoken word? What if you opened an event by singing a customized company anthem?

Let’s commit to designing meetings that foster Angry-Bird-level engagement and focus for all. There’s an app. for that—and it all of us as meeting professionals!