How to Plan an Engaging Activity in Less Than 10 Minutes

“You give birth to that on which you fix your mind.”  —Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I love mind mapping. I use a simplified version of Tony Buzan’s Mind Maps I learned in a creativity workshop.

Creating a Plan for Your Activity

Although you can use this technique for any type of activity, I’ll demonstrate the process through planning my workshop: Prayer: It’s Aliiive! The workshop was based on two short stories from my book, Crumbled, Tumbled, Humbled—Saved.

Prayer Beads

Step 1. (Five minutes.) I sat comfortably with a piece of paper, a pen, and highlighters in different colors. In the center of the paper, I wrote Prayer Workshop and circled it. I fixed my mind on what an engaging workshop might look like.

Then I let my mind go wild. All over the paper, I wrote words or phrases that came to mind. I didn’t judge or cross out any jottings.

Like for popcorn, when ideas popped less frequently and finally stopped, I went to Step 2.

Step 2. (Two minutes.) I perused my jottings. I saw connections among various items. Usually three to five groups are identified. I recognized four in my workshop list.

I highlighted the items belonging to each group with a different color.

  • simple & fun
  • handouts
  • base on 2 stories and quotes on prayer
  • story 1= Praise God!
  • story 2 = Trinkets
  • prayer beads
  • dramatic readings
  • quotes on prayer
  • quotes by popular Christians
  • quotes profound and personal
  • scripture on handout: 1 Samuel 12:23
  • decorate room with life-sized trinkets
  • lesson through activities
  • craft-store beads in shapes of story’s trinkets
  • intro about how stories came about
  • rainbow-colored prayer-chain cord
  • divide into groups to discuss quotes
  • books available to purchase
  • token to take home as reminder
  • handout to record bead shapes & people they represent for receiving prayer
  • one hour
Quote on Prayer

Step 3. (Three minutes.) I assigned descriptive headings to the groups. On the back of my paper, I made a table with the headings across the top. I placed the unique, color-coded jottings in their respective columns. My plan was complete.

General Workshop Setup  Dramatic Reading Quotes on Prayer Participants Make Prayer Chains for Praying for Family & Friends
Simple & fun Dramatic readings of 2 stories on prayer Quotes by popular Christians Prayer beads on cord represent family members and friends
One hour Story 1= Praise God! Quotes profound and personal Craft-store beads in shapes of story’s trinkets (animals, stars, harts, etc.)
Lesson through activities Story 2 = Trinkets Divide into groups to discuss quotes Rainbow-colored prayer-chain cord like in story
Base on 2 stories and quotes on prayer Decorate room with life-sized trinkets –stuffed animals, etc. Handout of quotes Handout to record bead shapes and people they represent  for receiving prayer
Intro: how stories came about Quotes posted around room Scripture on handout: 1 Samuel 12:23
Token to take home as reminder
Books (containing the 2 stories) available to purchase

Sometimes items will fit under multiple headings, adding something different to each group. Also, more items may be added (see two not highlighted).

What is your favorite brainstorming method?

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3 Steps to Creatively Engage People Who Come Only for the Food

The best cure for a sluggish mind is to disturb its routine.”  —William H. Danforth

Today you’ll see how you can use your creativity to grab the attention of people who don’t intend to participate.

For eight years, I wrote and presented Bible lessons to young men in a juvenile correctional center. Many prisoners (called cadets) wanted to study the Bible. Others attended for something to do, to socialize with friends, or for the refreshments we provided. I syphoned my creativity almost dry in planning how I would capture the attentions of the sluggish. 

Here’s what worked.

1. Determine what the norm is for the participants so you’ll know what to change. Before I led Bible lessons, I observed. A lecture was given, popular Christian songs were sung, volunteers chatted with the cadets during refreshments, and prayer requests were taken. The cadets enjoyed the music, the chatting, the food, and giving their prayer requests the most. The personal activities.

I realized if we were going to engage them in learning about God, we needed to offer something meaningful to them personally.

2. Involve participants in an activity that’s personal but isn’t threatening. For a lesson on the Twenty-third Psalm, which starts: You, Lord, are my shepherd, I wrote its verses in huge letters on long strips of paper. I used an easy-to-understand Bible translation (Contemporary English Version). I decorated the strips with pictures of sheep. At the prison, I mounted the strips like a wallpaper border around the four walls.

After I told stories about why sheep need a shepherd, I gave each cadet three nickel-sized dot stickers. I invited them to stick dots on the verses on the wall that spoke to them. All the cadets milled around rereading the verses and placing dots on those they identified with.

The verse that overwhelmingly had the most dots was: I may walk through valleys as dark as death, but I won’t be afraid. You are with me, and your shepherd’s rod makes me feel safe.

Because several were from gangs or were otherwise in danger outside and sometimes inside the prison walls, we had a meaningful discussion among all the cadets why they chose that verse.

3. Provide a fun prop. For years, the cadets looked at cement walls, wore the same-colored jumpsuits, and had few possessions.

A “three-legged” sheep.

So I made a sheep from foam board the size of a breadbox. I covered BeauSheep with soft material and cotton balls. Because the sheep in the picture I fashioned BeauSheep from had one leg hidden behind another, I made three legs that swiveled on brass brads.

The cadets wanted to know why I’d only given him three legs. Inadvertently, my faux pas was the best thing that pulled them into my sheep stories. The cadets enjoyed holding BeauSheep (he was cute). For months, they talked about that sheep.

Your turn. How have you captured the interest of reluctant participants during your activities?

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I Got Creative – Why Aren’t I Engaging People?

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.  —Scott Adams

I wrote in my last post that I would expand on this tip: Focus not on the creativity itself but on how it will engage others. It’s when we get wrapped up in our creative juices that we risk producing functional bombs.

Here are three invitations to disasters.

1. In trying to add interest to the activity, we make it too complicated.  Either the cool picture of the spiced up activity in our imaginations is unrealistic or we haven’t thought out how to make the idea work.

Example. In my first year as a Bible Study Fellowship children’s leader, I had fun making foam animal masks with colored tongue-depressor handles – sets of tigers, monkeys, lions, and elephants. I couldn’t wait to use them for the large-muscle activity in the gym.

To marching music, I pictured the preschoolers in a circle marching in place holding their masks as I called out, “Tigers to the center!” All the tigers would march in unison from the circle to the center, growling. Then I’d call, “Tigers back to the circle and Monkeys to the center!” The tigers would step to the music back to their places and the monkeys would march to the center ee-eeing.

But preschoolers don’t always picture what we’ve instructed, don’t always march in unison, don’t remember where their places are on the circle. They are easily confused. In a word, pandemonium. My activity was too complicated for preschoolers.

The children would have enjoyed exercising if I’d instructed them to move around with their masks growling, ee-eeing, etc.

2. In having so much fun being creative, we forget to consider the participants’ needs in our activity. See the example with 3.

3. Our creative activity idea has little to do with the point we want to make.

Example. As an actuarial manager in an insurance company, my area set reserves for small business groups. It wasn’t the most exciting work and the monthly meetings to report reserves were monotonous.

My team latched onto the idea of making a 2-minute video of an analyst pulling out her hair over computer glitches, another analyst snatching reserve numbers from the air, and our boss juggling balls in his office. We stayed after work and filmed a wig flying from a cubicle, an analyst deep in thought suddenly saying some ridiculous number and writing it down, and the chief actuary humoring us and juggling. What fun.

During our opening video, the accounting VP’s normal expression didn’t change and the Small Business VP, although smiling slightly, said she hoped we didn’t bill her for the time it took to film the video. The VPs just wanted the numbers and analysis, and the film added nothing to enhance that activity.

Remember, our failures help make future successes.

Your turn. What other oversights invite disasters when adding glitz to your activities?

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