Elephants and Squirrels and Chickens, Oh My: Why I Use Stuffed Animals in Meetings
A rubber chicken. A stuffed rabbit. A slice of pizza. Elmo. When participants show up to our facilitated meetings, they see their tables already packed with fun items. Most of those tools have obvious applications – the flip chart pens, 3 x 5 cards, post it notes, and envelopes are familiar…. but stuffed toys? What the hey?
Every facilitator has a unique style, and our style is to make sure the meetings are fun and engaging as well as effective and efficient. We incorporate the toys into our ground rules, and here’s how it works:
Ground Rule: Elephants and Squirrels and Chickens Oh My
Visual: We have the visual from Karina Branson on the wall for reference
Conversation: At your tables are some fun stuffed animals and toys. They are part of our meeting for several reasons: they serve an important function, and they work as a kinesthetic tool. Let me explain…
The adorable stuffed rabbit works when we are getting too detailed – going down the rabbit hole.
The squirrel can make an appearance if we get off topic and start to ramble.
The Dammit Doll™ is on standby for any frustrating situations.
The rubber chicken is a great way to get attention when I’m not noticing something in the room.
Elmo is a stand in for Enough Already, Let’s Move On when you might feel the conversation is becoming less effective or repetitive.
Mr. Bill is just for fun…. Oh, no, Mr. Bill! (I often have to explain this one to non-SNL watchers!)
The elephant is for the “elephants in the room” – the difficult topics or conversations we need to have.
The pizza slice is just for fun, but a client did suggest it was for “cheesy” situations, which I loved. I do use the pizza slice (with other squeaky stuffed items) in a team building exercise (shout out if you want more details)
Results: participants LOVE the toys, and it becomes both an ice breaker and an easy, humorous way for them to enforce the ground rules, both for themselves and for the others in the room. I’ll often have a client pick up the bunny and say, “Now I know I’m going into the weeds, but this is important.”
I often bring extra toys to give as gifts or team awards, and client will send me photos of their ongoing meetings with the toy front and center!
I hope this encourages you to add some fun and use some "out of the box" tools for your meetings. Let me know if I can help!
Sheryl Trent, CMF, CVF
Graphic Credit to Karina Branson from ConverSketch (we recommend her work!!)