This post is taken from my latest book, So, How Was Your Meeting? which is available as a Kindle e-book here.
Years ago, just before the grand opening of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland, Walt Disney and his top aides took what was planned to be the final test “drive” before opening it to the public. If you’re familiar with the ride, you’ll recall that it begins with your boat drifting through a quiet, nighttime bayou scene.
Moments after the ride began Walt suddenly cried out, “Stop! There’s something wrong here. I can’t place it – but something doesn’t look right!”
Everyone looked around, and furrowed their brows, but no one could put their finger on the problem. Walt persisted, “I just know something’s missing. We’re missing something.”
Someone remembered a busboy who worked at the restaurant that overlooks the artificial bayou. Perhaps they should ask him? After all, he’d grown up on the real bayou in Louisiana. They sent for him, and sure enough, he figured it out in a few seconds.
“There are no fireflies,” he said. “If this was a real bayou, you’d have thousands of ‘em.”
Walt delayed the opening until thousands of artificial fireflies could be assembled and installed.
Often, there are things you can add to an experience which might not have been missed by the casual observer, but on some level, enhance everything. Meetings are no exception. I call these things “fireflies.” Here are some meeting fireflies I’ve seen used with great effectiveness:
- Small bowls of candy or mints on the table.
- Gimmicks and toys for a bit of fun–Nerf balls, pliable Gumby figures, stress balls, etc.
- An egg-timer to assist with timekeeping. When an issue is first brought up, the Timekeeper sets the time.
- A device that continually tracks the amount of money being spent for the meeting, similar to the National Debt sign on Wall Street.
- Copies for everyone of an article that someone found interesting, which may have nothing to do with the actual agenda of the day.
Here are two unique fireflies that I saw first-hand. Both went on to become legendary in their organizations.
One group had developed the habit of “beating a dead horse” when discussing critical issues in ongoing meetings. They had agreed to stop this time-wasting pattern, but it persisted. One day, someone made a trip to a toy store, purchased a small plastic horse, and brought it to the next meeting.
Soon enough, the group began going around in circles. Quietly, he pulled the toy horse from his briefcase and slid it across the conference table. “We’re doing it again, folks!”
Everyone began laughing–and the cycle was broken. From that day on, if the group slipped into its old behavior, someone would get the horse and toss it on the table. Problem solved.
Different group–nearly the same idea, but their issue was dancing around the “elephant in the room.” You guessed it–someone brought in a cute, plush stuffed elephant. With the prop, someone could say, “I think there’s an elephant in the room.”
It cut the tension while keeping the focus on something important.
Do you have to provide fireflies at your meetings? I suppose not. After all, the group won’t notice something they weren’t expecting. And, after all, they will add a bit of expense, and extra work to create them. Are they really worth it?
Ask Walt Disney.