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Is there room for joy?

By September 11, 2020No Comments

Have you attended a meeting? Participated in a video conference? Joined a conference call?

As you sit in the virtual waiting room, do you experience dread? Do you find these telephone conversations unproductive? Are you doodling during staff meetings, or do you come away feeling like your meetings were uninspiring ?

I have felt this way in my fair share of mandatory work meetings. I always found myself asking “where is the fun?” Is this what people consider professional?

After too many of these dispiriting sessions, I have made it my mission to infuse joy into meetings. It is possible to be professional, focused, and fun.

In the nonprofit sector, more often than not, individuals are brought together to discuss the bad: what’s not working and what we want to improve in our communities. These conversations can be emotionally taxing, disheartening, and unmotivating. Having a facilitator who is engaging and energetic can make a world of difference.

A facilitator is a person who supports the work of a meeting by keeping groups on topic, on task, and on time. This is a powerful position, and with “great power comes great responsibility.”

We are not too important, too busy, too wealthy, or too professional for joy. How might a facilitator infuse joy into a meeting? I have developed a short list based on my own experience to get you started.


Music is a powerful tool and a great way to set the tone or mood in a space. Consider playing music as your participants enter the room or play it in the background during breakout conversations. Play something uplifting, soothing, or a song everyone knows and can sing along to. No AV equipment? No problem. Music can be played from a portable speaker or phone. Consider inviting participants to submit songs in advance to make playlists.

Physical SettingVirtual Setting
Use AV equipment, a portable speaker, or phone

Play music:
as people enter the space
before a meeting begins
softly while participants work
as a break for long meetings
to end the meeting
Use computer, portable speaker, or phone

Play music:
in the waiting room
during a poll
as people enter/return from breakout rooms
before meeting ends
to end the meeting


Table toys (also known as manipulatives) are a simple way to encourage joy in any meeting. Adults just like children fidget and become distracted. Toys encourage play and encourage creativity. Play can encourage communication because employees are talking about something other than their job roles. Shy personalities can outshine the traditionally outspoken team members. Play allows for discovery and failure and resilience; Build something together; if it falls, try a different tactic. Laugh about it!

Physical SettingVirtual Setting
Building blocks for groups/individuals
Marshmallow towers
Rube Goldberg machines
Technical writing/building project based on everyday household items
20 Questions

Natural Light

A room with windows helps create natural light. Open the blinds (unless it washes out your presentation) and allow the additional light. Invite your participants to take a pause and acknowledge the sun or nature. If you are leading a virtual meeting, consider how you can invite participants to access natural light in their individual locations.

Physical SettingVirtual Setting
Select a meeting space with windows or access to natural light
Open or raise blinds
Acknowledge the light/sun
Use breaks to invite people to go outside
Have a walking meeting
Select a room with natural light
Invite others to select a room with natural light
Acknowledge the light/sun
Encourage people to go outside during breaks
Have a walking conference call


This is my personal favorite. If you have a sense of humor, use it to your advantage. Humor and wit are subtle but easy ways to bring joy into a meeting. Humor can spark laughter, and laughter helps to create levity and can support navigating difficult topics. NOTE: Humor should not be conflated with telling discriminatory jokes.

Physical SettingVirtual Setting
Use comics or funny slides as an opening
Make jokes about the things everyone is worried about
Tell an entertaining story
Poke fun at yourself
Ask attendees to create a caption
Use comics or funny slides as an opening
Make jokes about the things everyone is worried about
Tell an entertaining story
Poke fun at yourself
Ask attendees to create a caption
Use a poll to ask clever questions


When you visit a hotel, checking in allows you and the hotel staff to become acquainted. A group check-in serves a similar purpose in the beginning of a meeting. It helps to join groups together and establish connections. Check-ins can be used to assess how individuals are feeling and what they are bringing to the conversation.

The check-in tool is also a great way to pair people together for deeper conversations. Working with a stressed or overwhelmed group? Try adding breathing exercises to check-ins to calm and center the focus. Check-ins are a simple yet powerful tool for facilitators to set the tone and encourage joy.

Physical SettingVirtual Setting
Conduct a quick breathing activity
Ask participants to describe their mood by drawing a picture
Invite participants to get into pairs and check-in with each other
Ask questions on the personal and role level
Conduct a quick breathing activity
Invite people to share how they are doing via chat function
Ask participants to use emojis to describe their mood, day, workload, etc.
Have a scavenger hunt or show and tell with household items

The great thing about music, toys, natural light, humor, and check-ins is that they are all accessible on video/conference calls. This practice of finding and being intentional about joy has the power to change how we hold conversations and come together.

“The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference.” Audre Lorde

Joy reminds us of what is possible. It is something accessible to all of us and a source of strength and power we can draw from. Reflect on what brings you joy and identify ways to invite joy into your facilitation.

Is there room for joy? The answer is YES!