Whether your meeting is large or small, whether attendees know each other or are complete strangers, whether your goal is motivation, learning, change management, or something else, the event you’ve planned needs a great start.

Compelling kickoff speakers often fill that role. What can be more engaging, however, is to first get participants involved in an activity, looking at each other, listening to each other, and allowing the critical transition from workaday world to meeting venue to take place. To start us off, here’s an idea that gets people relaxed and sharing a few laughs, then invites them to open up and share with each other. This outline was used successfully for a first-timers’ session of about 100 attendees at a larger conference. The room was set with 12 tables, and each table included a mix of first-timers and mentors to first-timers.

The Setup
• A banquet table set with nine types of candy bars. (Specifically: Milky Way, 3 Musketeers, Snickers, Baby Ruth, Butterfinger, Nestle Crunch, Almond Joy, Twix, and an energy bar.)
• 8 to 16 round tables each with a small pile of one of the candy bars in the center and an instruction sheet face down.

The Flow
1. (10 minutes)
As participants enter the room, they are told to choose their favorite candy bar, then sit at the corresponding table.
2. (5 minutes)
Facilitator welcomes the group, explains that participants have revealed their personalities by choosing their favorite candy, then reads the descriptions of the candy bar types.* This gets people comfortable with meeting for the first time and helps to raise the energy in the room.
3. (15 minutes)
Facilitator tells participants to turn over the instruction sheet at their table. There are three different potential activities spread out among the tables in the room, all of which encourage discussion and interaction:
  • Dinner Guests
Each person at the table lists the 10 (living or dead) people they would love to invite to dinner. From all the lists, the group agrees on the top five to share.
  • Desert Island Musts
Each person lists the top 10 items they would need to survive on a desert island. From the lists, the group agrees on the top five to share.
  • Greatest Travel Story Ever Told
This activity can be customized to the industry or mission of the group. In this case, the industry was hospitality and travel, so each person’s task was to share his or her craziest travel experience. From the stories, the group selects one to share.
4. (20 minutes)
Table groups report out on their assigned activities.

*Here's the "candy answer key"! You can read these personality snapshots once everyone is seated:
Baby Ruth
You are sweet and loving. You are a cuddly person who loves hugs and warm, fuzzy items. Stuffed animals and fleece clothing are your friends. You can be a little nutty! Sometimes you need a little treat like an ice-cream bar at the end of a stressful day.

3 Musketeers
You are adventurous and brave. You love new ideas. You stick up for people who can't stick up for themselves. You have the personality to succeed in challenging endeavors. When tempers flare up, you are never afraid to leap into battle!

You are smooth and articulate. You express yourself well and you would make a terrific actor or public speaker. You are also a natural teacher. Others sometimes think you are a bit fluffy, but they just don't understand you!

You are fun-loving, sassy, and humorous. Everyone enjoys being around you. You are a practical joker and others should be cautious when shaking hands with you!

Nestle Crunch
You are warm and romantic. You have a loving personality by nature. You care about other people and can be counted on in a crisis. You are pretty emotional and you probably cry at sad movies. You can be mushy, especially in relationships.

Milky Way
You are an outgoing person who likes to laugh. You are fun to be with. People like to go to the movies with you. Children find you amusing!

Almond Joy
You are flirtatious, energetic, and highly attractive. You have a sexy presence and you know your own power. You are always ready to give and take in love. You love life!

You are sporty and energetic. The more active you are, the happier you will be. You throw yourself into life with energy. When watching TV, you don't like to give up the remote control!

Energy Bar
You are very active. In fact, you are so active, life is passing you by. Get a life!