Why Play Benefits Attendees

At work, play has been linked to greater productivity and more creativity. It’s for those same reasons that many organizations are incorporating play into their conferences and other events.

In two weeks, I’ll be headed to Columbus for #ASAE19. One of the things attendees are being encouraged to do onsite is to “play with purpose.”

After all, research has shown that adults who play have better physical and mental health and lower levels of stress hormones. And, at work, play has been linked to higher productivity and more creativity [PDF].

That’s why it makes sense that more conferences are building in dedicated play spaces and playtime for attendees.

The National Communication Association did just that at its 104th Annual Convention back in November in Salt Lake City. In the spirit of the convention theme, “Communication at Play,” NCA hosted a play space that allowed attendees to explore the nature of play throughout the convention. The space featured yoga, board games, improv games, performances, and more. According to NCA, it had three goals for the space: to cultivate innovation, creativity, and collaboration; generate fun, whimsy, and laughter; and experiment with playful communication as a means for knowing, doing, and creating.

In addition to the play space, NCA had an “Evening Playlist,” which placed members in small groups based on their mutual interest in topics, experiences, or events. According to NCA’s Spectra magazine [PDF], one group met for an offsite basketball game, while another organized a field trip to the Special Olympics training facility.

At the National Association for Music Education’s conference, attendees took part in “Music Tech Playground Time.” This gave people time to try out various technology solutions and apply the knowledge they learned during the day. And the Illinois Digital Educators Alliance’s conference featured an “Escape the Conference” game and a Playful Learning Space, in addition to a tech playground that featured interactive drone flying and wearable tech.

Outside of the association world, the web-hosting company GitHub had an adult playroom at its 2018 event. The sponsor brought a children’s play space alive for adults, including a 10-foot-high teddy bear and life-size rocking horse. Attendees could also color at tables, and a giant toy box, which glowed yellow from within, was filled with branded giveaway items that would appeal to children. Plus, GitHub hosted a Generator Lounge, where attendees could make their own custom avatars at kiosks, adding hair and clothing to its well-known mascot, Octocat.

Sure, you want attendees to learn at your meetings, but you also want them to have some fun. Spaces like these are perfect for giving attendees room to be creative and think outside the box.

As Fred Rogers said, “It’s the things we play with and the people who help us play that make a great difference in our lives.”

How do you encourage play at your conferences? Tell us about it in the comments.

The “Generator Lounge” at GitHub Universe, the code-hosting company’s 2018 conference. (via Twitter)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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