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Entertainment adds zest to events (11/01)

By Katherine Thompson Nelson They play games based on popular television shows like Survivor and Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Last month they ventured to a casino.

By Katherine Thompson Nelson

They play games based on popular television shows like Survivor and Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Last month they ventured to a casino. An active seniors' group perhaps? No, these people are attending business functions.

About six years ago the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce realized that their member networking events could be more, well, entertaining.

A task force came up with the idea of Take Five forums, so called because participants are taking a break, and the events run from 5 to 7 p.m., says Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce assistant manager Brenda Stenta.

"Our slogan is, 'A little fun, a little distraction, and a lot of networking'," Stenta says.

The "fun" part is an entertainment element. This can include anything from a slots tournament at the local casino to industrial tours and trivia scavenger hunts at local museums.

Stenta says the various activities serve as ice-breakers.

"If there are things going on that you can get involved in, it gets networking going, promotes interaction and creates a more relaxed atmosphere," she adds.

She says the events average 100 to 120 people each month, and member feedback is positive.

Despite their serious intent, the Take Five forums often involve a certain amount of fun and silliness. For one event, the chamber rented a booth that used forced air to send paper flying as a person grabbed as much as they could within a time limit.

To make it more sporting, each participant wore goggles and coveralls without pockets. They had 30 seconds to grab fistfuls of play money, coupons and gift certificates.

The Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce holds the events nine times a year. In the summer they switch to Golf After Five.

The Take Five task force makes the event possible. The task force consists of "about six people at any given time, all volunteers," says Stenta. They come up with an idea for a mixer activity and arrange tours, make up game questions and do whatever is required to make the event happen, she says.

The networking forums provide an atmosphere of enjoyment for attendees, Stenta says. These concepts can be applied to other business gatherings, she says. Someone could plan a similar type of outing or event that creates a relaxed atmosphere, Stenta suggests.

"Even a small business could organize an event that allows the team to interact outside the work environment."

The Take Five events are geared to large groups, but the ideas can be adapted to smaller groups as well.

A business could form its own task force to brainstorm ideas, she adds.

Even business events where large amounts of information are presented can be an opportunity for fun, according to Dave Redgers, president of NTN Interactive Network Inc.

NTN is the company responsible for Showdown and Passport, interactive trivia games played at bars and restaurants across Canada. The Etobicoke-based company also provides game software and equipment for business events, says Redgers.

The concept is amazingly effective, Redgers says. Within minutes of starting a game, "people start to yell and scream and high-five one another, and it becomes fun."

"A number of years ago we came up with the idea of converting the trivia game to product knowledge. All the hardware is the same as the bar games; all we've done is converted the trivia itself to something specific to the customer's needs," Redgers explains.

He says using the NTN game format helps with information retention, and makes learning more fun. He believes the competitive element is part of what makes this type of game so successful - a large crowd would generally be divided into groups of four to six to play against each another.

For business people seeking to liven up events in a less "high-tech" manner, it may be as simple as arranging to have an appropriate musical or comedy act sent over.

Rob Violette, booking agent for the First Impressions Entertainment Booking Agency in Sudbury, says he has noticed a definite trend toward hiring professional entertainers for corporate events.

Violette has been booking talent in the Sudbury area since 1983, and says "the corporate thing is fairly new" for his company, but that it is "becoming huge." He says businesses hire performers for a variety of events. Some companies have entertainment as part of a service awards dinner, while others will arrange for comedians or motivational speakers for staff "stress relief" weekend getaways.