by Andrea Doyle | March 02, 2016

Play areas, cafes, coffee bars, fitness studios, outdoor terraces, videogames; the offices of many of today's most innovative and successful companies embrace the "fun factor" in the workplace. Conference centers should follow suit, says New York City-based Christopher Kelly, president and cofounder of Convene, a company that develops, owns, and operates a network of executive meeting centers. Recently, the retail chain UNIQLO held an internal corporate strategy meeting at a Convene conference facility that featured an out-of-the-ordinary component for a strategy event: a fashion show where all UNIQLO's products for the upcoming season were showcased.  


Christopher Kelly

"Cultural changes in the workplace are driving changes in meetings that are a lot less formal and stuffy, and integrate social components," says Kelly. "Work-life integration is a focus. Work is no longer a place, it's an activity. Just as email follows you home, Facebook is following employees to work."

This reality is changing the way groups are using conference centers -- and conference centers are changing both physically and conceptually to meet these new needs for adding fun to meetings.

The Magic of Play
"Play creates an arena for social interaction and learning," says Dr. Stuart Brown in his book Play. That book is a favorite of Joan L. Eisenstodt of Eisenstodt Associates, LLC, a meetings and hospitality consultant, facilitator, and trainer.

During some of the meetings Eisenstodt plans, she places toys, trinkets, and modeling clay on each table for attendees. Not only do these items promote social interactivity, but they also engage participants' right brains during a meeting that will help them stay awake and better retain the information being presented.

It's important that fun and play are audience-specific, she adds. "Turning creativity into competition adds a level of stress that may interfere with camaraderie," says Eisenstodt. "Forcing people to participate in play (ice breakers, teambuilding) may turn some against the activity and may then make it uncomfortable for them to reveal their discomfort or a hidden disability. Creative tools, doodling, are for hand-brain engagement."

This embrace of fun at conference centers reflects the broader trend of travelers combining business with leisure -- or "bleisure."

"Bleisure travel is a growing trend in the conference industry due to the need for work-life balance," says Timothy McGill, director of sales and marketing, Asilomar Conference Grounds.

Techsytalk LIVE, an event tech conference and showcase for planners, was held last August at Convene's 32 Old Slip location in New York City. From the walkthrough welcome hologram to the belly laughs Chicago City Limits provided to a DJ spinning tunes in the meeting room, Techsytalk was not only informative but entertaining and inspiring.

"Fun is an essential element to any conference," says Liz King, CEO of Liz King Events and founder of Techsytalk. "While we spend so much time painstakingly planning logistics and agendas, we have to think about the meeting experience. Attendees want to be entertained, engaged, and inspired. This happens through more than just content sharing."

Today, attendees are pulled in many different directions. "At any given time, a conference participant has an option of 100 different events they could be attending, a piling stack of emails that they have access to on their phones, and social media that is demanding their every attention," adds King. "Integrating fun into our events is a great way to reach our attendees and keep their attention in this very competitive world."