Monday, July 29, 2013

Surprise by Design

I am addicted to TED talks in the same way some folks are addicted to Pinterest. TED holds two annual conferences per year (one of them will now be hosted in Vancouver next year...yay Vancouver Convention Centre) which I can dream of one day attending. In the meantime, I watch TED talks online and it was during one of these viewings, that I stumbled upon Tania Luna and the concept of “Surprisology” (this particular talk was on the TEDxTeen site - Tania also has talks on the TED home site)

Tania speaks about gratitude and the concept of the appreciating the moment. She also talks about the amazing feeling that washes over us when we are surprised. You can check out her website at

What is the best part of a surprise?

It is the look on the face of those involved at the point that they realize that it is really happening. It is the “wow” moment. Luna calls it the “freeze” effect or the “duh” face because it hijacks all of our senses and stops us in our tracks.  What about the child who tastes lemon for the first time – think about the look on their wee face. Shock followed by realization. It turns out that something else happens when we are surprised…… we learn.

We habitually drive the same route every day to go to work. The novelty has worn off and we now travel on autopilot – not taking any notice of our surroundings. What if you decided to change it up and go another way? Your senses would be heightened, you would be much more aware of the turns you are making, the people you are seeing. You would be looking at your daily drive through fresh eyes.

The same premise can be applied to a conference. When we surprise our attendees, they become engaged. When they become engaged, they are much more likely to learn.

Some examples of where you can add the element of surprise at your next event:

Speakers: Hire speakers with a message that is untraditional, a message that evokes an emotional response from the audience……someone with whom the attendees may disagree.

Entertainment: What about a music group that poses as the wait-staff and then suddenly breaks into song. A wonderful surprise!

Food: introducing non-traditional conference food can create conversation. Provide a juicing machine and a selection of fruits and veggies - invite guests to create their own super juice. Interrupt their meal selection with something a little different – make them go “wow”.

Go from Day to Night: Have you ever considered scheduling your conference sessions in the evening and giving attendees the daytime hours to go sightseeing or to participate in a daytime team building exercise?

Room layout: what if attendees walked into a room that had no tables or chairs? What if the room was full of bean-bags, exercise balls and benches? Granted….this approach might not work in many situations, but occasionally, it would be a welcome change.

Tahira Endean, Director - Creative & Production, Cantrav Services recently wrote in her blog post titled, "Power of the Collective" that "....Flashmobs are another great example of bringing people together in an unexpected way". She is correct! The best part of a flashmob is looking at the faces of those watching as they begin to realize what is actually happening. 

The element of surprise can be healthy. It keeps life from becoming boring….it keeps US from becoming boring, it keeps our brain active. Pick up a book that you would normally have passed over in favour of another, try a food that you normally shy away from, listen to a different type of music – embrace the concept of being surprised. You never know… might learn something.

I would love to hear other examples of using the element of surprise at a conference or event!


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