Dos and Don’ts for Entertaining Rowdy Groups

Group.Activity.Ideas.NYC.jpgGroup Activity Ideas NYC

This one’s come up a lot lately, enough that I’ve decided to dedicate an entire blog post to it. Someone will call me up inquiring about creating a staff bonding activity in New York City or elsewhere, be it for team building, morale boosting or simply as a means of employee reward. The group is fun-loving, intelligent, diverse and overall great.

But there’s a problem: they’re wild.

Event planners who deal with these types of colleagues at company functions are anxious from the outset. They’ve been tasked with providing an environment which will be social and enjoyable, and yet they know this group. Put them together in a room and add an open bar, and you’re asking for trouble. Just look at what happened last year at the holiday party, or last month at the convention, or last week at happy hour. They’re animals! (Click here for a more detailed discussion on how alcohol affects office party attendees).

For whatever reason, I’ve always been good at controlling a room. Give me a microphone, and I can get everybody’s attention and keep it. Now, this isn’t a product of my status or stature – at 5’7, I assure you no one’s intimidated. But it’s a skill I’ve honed, through years of hosting pub quiz nights and corporate trivia parties in the Big Apple. The audiences here can be rough, they can be rude, they can be loud and obnoxious. But they’re not untamable, which I’ve discovered over the past ten years of doing this.

The first rule to adhere to when planning an event for a group of untamed co-workers is to select a venue and activity which are appropriate. People who fall into these types of work environments typically do so because they are naturally social, competitive and boisterous. The planner should ensure that wherever this function is being held, and whatever it is they’ll be doing, that it meshes well with this reality. Will a crowd like this respond well to something quite, cultured and/or subdued? It’s possible, but most likely they’ll thrive in something involving an energetic contest of sorts, where they get to let their hair down and be themselves without fear of consequence.

As such, a visit to the museum followed by a formal dinner might not necessarily be the right fit. However, I think this is why teams such as these gravitate towards ideas like my trivia contests (and, prior to starting my company, the scavenger hunts for corporate groups I used to produce). As the planner, you know your people best. Are they into sports? Do they like being outdoors? Are they drinkers? These are all things to think about when selecting the perfect space and itinerary for this audience.

Next, you need to ensure the host is a good match as well. Like I said, I’ve become quite strong at this, but only because I’ve been put up in front of the toughest audiences in the world for the past decade. But really, anyone can do it. Here are some tips and tricks I’ve learned to helping manage a rambunctious room:

  • Use a Microphone – Even if it’s a small group, say 20-30 people, I’ll still use a mic. The reason is twofold: for one, just having a microphone and sound amplification of your voice gives you presence. You’re the only one in the room with the ability to project your voice through the speakers, and that provides you with power. And second, it obviously helps you blow over the competing voices. I never host a gig without using a mic, and as a result, I never have to yell, never feel powerless, and never feel out of control.
  • Keep Things Moving – This group basically has Attention Deficit Disorder (an apt analogy I’ve been told plenty of times at an event’s start by the organizer). As such, you need to provide them with a reason to keep their attention, and don’t let go, not even for a second. Dead air, pauses in the program, even short bathroom breaks are enough to lose a room like this. You have got to keep the train moving, your enthusiasm level high, and don’t ever, ever stop.
  • Smack Down Hecklers – Again, this is one where having not only lots of experience, but also a natural ability to be witty proves valuable. It’s not for everyone, but for me, it’s worked. Take down anyone who heckles, disrupts, or otherwise tries to dominate the event, and do it fast. Of course, you have got to do it with extreme caution and tact (this is a work function, after all) but my philosophy is, if they feel it’s normal and appropriate to be loud and obnoxious, then I have an invitation to respond in kind – albeit in a highly professional manner. You don’t command a room’s attention and respect by raving and swearing at the attendees; do it in a way that’s fun, humorous, playful and enjoyable, so that even the recipient of your barb is laughing (and if done correctly, laughing the hardest!)
  • Don’t Make It Too Long – Again, think about this group’s A.D.D. They enjoy laughing and having a great time, however everything naturally has to come to an end, and you want to make sure that your activity does so at the right time. One of the things which I love about office trivia nights is that you can easily make adjustments on the fly to the duration of the event, based on the mood in the room: if things are dragging just a hair too slow, we can remove an entire round of trivia, and the audience won’t even realize it’s happened. With other activities, keep this in mind as well. Do you really need a full day of something, when half a day will suffice? Four hours, when two will do? I think it’s a good way to show your people that you respect their time by not imposing a marathon event on them. Even if they’ve having a good time at the beginning, if it’s dragging out, they’ll tune out.

In nearly ten years of producing and hosting entertainment for corporate groups, I can probably count on one hand the number of times a group was so unruly, so rambunctious, so loud that I literally couldn’t keep their attention. Those cases are tough, and typically the organizer will come up to me extremely apologetic, even embarrassed. But by and large, even the rowdy groups are still respectful if the activity is appropriate, and the emcee can successfully corral them and direct their energy into a fun, memorable event.

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