Raft building. That and fire-walking.

Nothing engages people more than being made to build something in the rain and the mud beside a lake and then watch it sink, or be compelled by group dynamics to risk third degree burns to your feet.

You can stop reading now and go and buy the matches.

Not really. Let’s turn this back on you. What engages you? Assuming that your answer isn’t “building aquatic transport from oil drums and tarpaulin” or “the practices and customs of the South Pacific”, I’m guessing that there is something that you would call a passion or an abiding interest that has inspired you or drawn you in at some point in your life. So, what is it?

The best engagement ideas are not all about you

Having asked you for your passion, don’t focus on that and think everyone will join in if you theme your engagement around something that excludes other people. That might be obvious – no-one really expects their passion for Italian Chamber Music of the Late Renaissance to enliven the latest Org Chart – but it’s easy to get carried away with things that you might think are popular.

There’s nothing like booking a conference room at your local football or rugby club to make people think that the whole day should be themed around sporting achievements, even though a proportion of the room might have no interest whatsoever in sport.

Move away from the specifics about what you’re passionate about, and focus on the things that draw people in.

Good engagement ideas inspire people

Think about your passion, your hobby, your interest. What got you into it in the first place, and what has inspired you to keep pursuing it? Other people and their enthusiasm? Personal mastery? Social interaction? Intellectual challenge? Curiosity?

These are the cornerstones of engagement, and appealing to them in some way with your intended audience will take you a long way down the right path in capturing their attention, retaining it, and inspiring them to act upon what you are telling them.

(If you’re looking at how to appeal to your audience, and make dry topics interesting, take a look at our article here.)

Engage people by making them feel a part of something

This lies at the heart of what we believe. At a base level, people will diminish this into the WIIFY – the “what’s in it for you” – but that turns it into a transactional operation, and focuses on the output, rather than the opportunities that exist if you are actively engaged in what is going on, and feel that you are having an impact on the process. Let people feel that they have an effect on the process and they are more likely to want to join in. Nobody wants to be a bystander in somebody else’s grand plan, when that grand plan has a bearing on you in some way.

Get – don’t give – the answers

Something we see a lot is the “thisisthesituationandhereiswhatwe’regoingtodoaboutit” response. “The organisation has a challenge, but don’t worry about it – even though it might be incredibly worrying because it will have a huge impact on your job and your life – because someone else has come up with a solution… and here it is, on a conveniently complicated PowerPoint slide!” Not that great, because in the history of things that are done by them (other people), they (other people), don’t understand the real situation and never take into account the views of us (me). When we can, we like to set people the challenge of the situation, and let them come up with their own solution. Quite often, when we do this, the thing that they come up with is often a version of what they come up with… but now it’s theirs (everyone’s).

Engage by being brave…make your ideas stand out

Do something that will make people sit up and take notice. Keep away from gimmicks, and single-strand ideas. We like to find things that work on a number of levels, and, however good the novelty key-ring with a slogan on it is, it isn’t something you can come back to, reposition, develop and build on. Take risks, but not stupid ones. Test the good ideas by looking at them as terrible ideas. If they still excite you, you might be onto something. Unless it’s fire-walking. That’s just a terrible idea.


The best engagement ideas we have seen over the years have encompassed one or all of the points above. We are not saying it is easy to do or that everybody is ready to adopt these principles but if you just take the essence of one or two of them, the likelihood is you will be moving closer to engaging people on a more emotional level.