For years I have brought balls, bendable objects, small mind puzzles, and other colorful and sensory-rich toys to meetings I facilitate. I have even encouraged new facilitators that I train to do the same. Why?
1) Toys bring out your inner child. Children are generally uninhibited and curious. They tend to be open to new things and can be very creative. When adults “play”, they bring out their inner child – therefore unlocking some of the barriers we put upon ourselves as adults.
2) Colors and playful objects remind us of generally good times. This reminder, even at an unconscious level while playing with toys or coloring, can help people feel more relaxed and comfortable.
3) Sensory stimulation ignites our whole brain. Let your brain come alive with more stimulation than just the meeting can hold. With mind puzzles you can light the logical left side and colored pencils and blank paper you can light up the creative right side of the brain. A win-win!
4) People may actually need the toys to participate fully in your meeting. One rough estimate of the population shows that up to 30% of people have sensory integration dysfunction. This is a disorder of the central nervous system that affects how people take in sensory information and process it in their brains. So people with hypo-sensitivity need lots of stimulation – these are the people who shake the change in their pockets, tap pens on the desk, doodle on paper constantly while still attentively listening to the presentation. Toys and other sensory objects at these meetings can help keep these people actively engaged in your topic! On the other side are people who are hyper-sensitive and their central nervous systems get overwhelmed with too much input – so have a space where they can be free of these objects.
I have only regretted the times I did not bring toys and sensory objects to meetings because of fear of the group being “too mature.” I have used these items with high level elected officials, lawyers, doctors, engineers, scientists, business leaders, and international non-profit leaders around the world. They make people smile and I usually get much better results from the meeting!