It’s 3:00 P.M. on a Thursday and the start of another long project meeting. You can tell by the rows of Mountain Dew cans and vacated looks that your staff would rather be anywhere else.

What do you do?

Recently, we asked TechRepublic members to send us “crazy ideas” for spicing up project or training meetings. We received an assortment of creative ideas that are bound to be a great addition to your meeting first aid kit. Here are our favorites:

All together now
Bert Messam, who works in data operations development, provided this simple, but effective, lesson in teamwork:

  1. Buy four boxes of the same puzzle.
  2. Mix up the puzzle pieces between/across the boxes, (i.e., move some box-one pieces to box two, box-two pieces to box three, and so on).
  3. Separate the team into four subteams.
  4. Challenge the subteams to use teamwork to put the puzzle together the fastest.

Initially, the subteams will compete against each other, Messam said, but eventually, they will realize that the entire group must work together for all to be successful.

Here’s another team-building exercise used at a meeting attended by TechRepublic member Kathy McCarthy. Give everyone a piece of paper and ask him or her to draw, from memory, the front and back of a penny. After a minute, tell everyone to hand their drawing to the person next to them. Repeat this cycle three times.

The benefit, according to McCarthy, is that alone, no one can draw the penny correctly, but together, they can.

Play time with Play-Doh
Meetings can be very stressful, both for the person leading the meeting and the attendees. When the room becomes too quiet or the topic too uncomfortable, technical infrastructure manager Tracy Caswell breaks out the Play-Doh.

“It eases the tension,” explained Caswell. “All the while, the group is getting physically creative, which then promotes creative thinking—and then ideas just come pouring out.”

The power of a doughnut
Member Alan Atkinson, IT business analyst for Franciscan Estates, suggested you come to the meeting armed with prizes. For regular meetings or training sessions, bring a few mouse pads to give to those who answer questions.

For more significant meetings, like a beta release, he recommended buying t-shirts with a nice logo, quote, and perhaps the participant’s name embroidered on the shirt pocket.

“This can be done inexpensively if you have goods or services to trade with the vendor,” said Atkinson.

You should also not underestimate the significance of snacks, added Atkinson.

“Try scones or cinnamon rolls or something nice, order out for espressos or good coffee, or bring in the gut bombs—cream-filled or jelly donuts,” he said. “Another nice surprise—don’t laugh—is a stack of carrots, the ones with the tops still on. Fresh fruit is always welcome, especially if it provides a break in the stare-at-your-pencil routine.”

Risque reward
Here’s an idea that might be risky for a more formal company but might work for you.

Carol Orndorff, a marketing systems manager, said she received a prank can of soda labeled “Whoop ass.” She decided to use the can as an award for the team member who, as she put it, “had kicked butt that month.” The team member is allowed to display the can for a month, and then award it to someone else at the next team meeting.

“It’s been humorous and gets team members to recognize what others bring to the project!” Orndorff said.

And now, for something completely different
If anybody needs a trick for capturing and keeping an audience’s attention, it’s Mike Wilcox. Wilcox is a research professor of biology for the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado and CEO of CEO Hyperacuity Systems, a defense contractor.

His top-secret weapon for grabbing attendees’ attention: excerpts from Monty Python.

He last used this trick at the University of Wyoming, where he played the scene from The Holy Grail where Brother Maynard reads from the Book of Armaments:

“And Saint Attila held the hand grenade on high saying, ‘Bless Oh Lord this hand grenade that Thou mayest blow Thy enemies to tiny bits, in Thy mercy.’”

This helped bond his audience and led to brainstorming for novel, but legitimate, uses for the device he’d been discussing.

The best idea
Fresh out of ideas for livening up a meeting? Here’s the best and craziest of all, submitted by Ellen Leathers:

“Surprise the attendees and make the meeting brief!”

It’s just crazy enough to work.

Share your ideas

Do you have ideas you’d like to share? If so, post them below.