Updated 9/2021

One of my very first training assignments was teaching new employee orientation at Walt Disney World.  That set the bar pretty high as far as fun at orientation.  Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to help create and teach other companies’ new employee orientations as well.  Using what I’ve learned throughout the years, here are seven ways to make your new employee orientation more fun.

  • Start with an icebreaker
  • Tell stories that illustrate your points
  • Use real life scenarios in activities
  • Have giveaways to encourage participation
  • Play relevant and fun games
  • Take a break from the classroom
  • Schedule guest speakers

Icebreakers

Done right, a good icebreaker can really help set the stage for a fun orientation.  There are a million of them out there. If you want to get some ideas, here is a good place to start.

One of my favorites was a simple BINGO activity we used at Houston Methodist which is a large hospital system in Houston.  Now, I will be the first to tell you that BINGO isn’t the most original idea ever but the class always loved it.

Instead of B-I-N-G-O at the top, we put the name of the company.  The spaces had things like “Loves football” or “Has been skiing” or “Has had a pet snake” – some fun get to know you things like that.

The class had to go around and find people who fit the descriptions in the spaces and write their name in that space.  One of our rules was that you could only use a person’s name one time so that way, they had to meet different people.  Whoever got a complete row of names either vertically or horizontally first had to come to the front and ring the “BINGO Bell”.

At that point, everyone would go back to their seats so we could confirm that the person had a legitimate BINGO.  I’d ask them to go through each name and fact from the winning row and then I’d ask the person named to confirm it was true and I might ask them to expand a little bit.  For example, I’d ask the “Loves Football” person what their favorite team was and why.

This “interview” with the various people would go on for about 10 minutes or so and then the winner would be declared and they’d get a “fabulous prize” (usually something scrounged from marketing).

The reason I think this icebreaker is a good one is because it combines fun competition with an effective “get to know you” element.  A lot of times the icebreaker chosen is one or the other.  For example, it’s common for classes to start with having everyone introduce themselves and what they want to learn from the class.  That’s fine and I’ve used that one myself.  It just isn’t as much fun or active as something like the BINGO icebreaker.

The downside to BINGO is that, since it’s geared toward larger groups, only a few people get to be heard from when doing the interview/recap.  To compensate for that, this particular orientation had many activities throughout to allow different people to shine.

As you start looking for your own icebreaker, think about your audience and what you want them to get out of it.  Is it purely for introductions? Do you want to have some fun?  Do you want them to learn something about your company while they do it?  Having some goals or objectives in mind will help you choose the most appropriate icebreaker for your group.

Stories

Walt Disney was a storyteller.  A pretty darn good one as most people will agree.  It is no surprise, then, that story telling was a big part of Walt Disney World Traditions (the new employee orientation).

No matter what section we were teaching, we always had stories to go along with the material.  Stories bring information to life.  People relate to them.  They can make a seemingly boring topic much more interesting and lively.

Safety, for example.  Safety is one of the four elements we taught in Traditions (along with Courtesy, Show and Efficiency).  Safety isn’t always the most exciting topic.  With a good story, though, you can connect with the audience and help them understand better.  When I taught the Safety section in Traditions, I shared a story from when I worked at the Great Movie Ride.

There was a family who really wanted to see the fireworks and I assured them they’d have time to after they got off the ride.  As the ride concluded, the announcement about the fireworks could be heard.  The family looked at me with desperation.  I told them to wait while I unloaded the ride vehicle and I’d make sure they got to see the fireworks.  Once I had cleared the vehicle, I told the family to follow me and I proceeded to lead them outside to a good viewing spot.

All of a sudden, there were managers with walkie talkies gesturing at us.  They ran over and frantically hustled the family to an area that was roped off.  It slowly dawned on me that I had led the family right into a “danger zone” of sorts.  Like, an area where fireworks could potentially come down and catch a person on fire…no big deal….

Obviously, I was reprimanded to some extent.  My manager was actually very fair about the whole situation.  He explained and reminded me that safety always comes first.  He knew that I meant well but I was putting courtesy and show before safety.

I learned a very valuable lesson.  And it only took placing a family in imminent danger to get there!

That is just one example of how a story can help bring a topic to life.

Most New Employee Orientations have to cover some pretty dry material.  Usually around policies and procedures.  These topics don’t have to be dry and boring, though.  Think about examples you can share that demonstrate the policy in action.  Or, turn it around and see if your audience can provide stories of their own experiences.  If you take a close look at your material, you can probably find a story for just about every section.  Use them throughout orientation to help keep your audience engaged.

Scenarios

As I mentioned, telling stories that provide examples of what you are teaching can be a great way to keep your audience interested.  Taking that a step further, you can come up with scenarios for your audience.

People learn by doing.  A scenario gives them a safe way to think about and react to a real situation they might encounter on the job.

One of the larger sections for the Houston Methodist new employee orientation was around customer service.  Many organizations teach about customer service and I’m guessing that a lot of them do a pretty standard lecture on the do’s and don’ts.  While we did provide some of that, the main focus in this section was to let the learners practice how they would use the service policies in various situations.

The class was split up into groups of three where one person was the employee, one was the patient/customer and the third was the observer.  There were behaviors for the observer to look for while the customer and employee did the role play.  There were also three different scenarios so that each person would have a chance to play each role.

Once everyone had a chance to go through their scenarios, the class would come back together and we’d talk through the scenarios and feedback.

You can create a scenario for anything you are teaching.  You probably won’t have time to do an activity like this for every single section of your orientation but think about areas where it might make sense.

What are some of the key behaviors you want to instill in the employees?  Is it a safety policy?  A service procedure?  Whatever it is, come up with some real life scenarios that they can practice in the new employee orientation.

Giveaways

One of the easiest ways to add an element of fun to your new employee orientation is with giveaways.  It seems a little silly but people love to get stuff.  It doesn’t even really matter what that “stuff” is.  A lot of the fun will be in your delivery of the giveaway.

In the Disney Traditions class, our giveaways were called “Critters”.  They were little plastic figures of various Disney characters.  We would use them to encourage participation.  Answer a question?  Get a Critter.  Volunteer to share an example? Get a Critter.  Wherever it made sense, we’d use them as rewards throughout the day and people LOVED them.

Of course, we had to be mindful of when we gave them out.  There is a balance with giving too many away and not giving enough away.  You want to keep people interested but not let them assume they will get something every time.

You may or may not have access to giveaways initially but there are a few different ways to approach it.  To start, you can simply ask for a budget that will allow you to purchase something.  That “something” doesn’t have to be expensive.  In some companies I worked for, we bought big bags of candy and gave away pieces of candy in our classes.

The other place I’d check with is the Marketing department.  They will often have leftover promotional items from various company events.  Things like keychains, mini flashlights, stickers, pens – you name it.  And, it’s usually stuff that is company branded so that is a bonus.

That is actually where we got the majority of our giveaways for the Houston Methodist orientation.  I didn’t always know what I would be giving away but, regardless, I always made a big deal about the “fabulous prize” a person might be winning.  Even if it ended up being a Band-Aid holder with the company logo on it.

Another thing you can do if you are facing serious budget constraints is to make your own.  For example, you could create and print some kind of award certificates and give those out as warranted.  Be creative.

Games

Games are another great way to inject fun into your new employee orientation.  Just like with icebreakers, there are hundreds of ideas out there to steal from with regard to different types of games.  I’ve always been a fan of the “Big Book of ____ Games” series by Mary Scannell as well as these and other books by Ed Scannell.  A lot of the books are fairly old but most of the games still hold up.

My very favorite book of games is The Big Book of Humorous Training Games by Doni Tamblyn.  Again, it’s an older book but if you are looking to spice up your new employee orientation (or any other class for that matter), it’s got some really fun ideas.

The most effective games are ones that serve dual purposes.  To entertain AND to teach.  Part of why I like these books is because they do a good job of explaining the learning parts of the games.  So, while most of the games by themselves are entertaining, you are also shown how they can be used to contribute to the participants’ learning and understanding of material.

Another “go to” for me is creating a game show game.  I’m sure if/when someone suggests a “Jeopardy” or “Family Feud” type of game, some of you probably roll your eyes.  I get that because those have been done time and time again.  But, I will tell you, people love ’em!

When I do it, I go whole hog as the game show host.  I do a cheesy announcer voice and have a lot of fun with it.  I also try to play some kind of game show music whether that is the original theme song or something similar.

It doesn’t have to be an established game show, either.  I’ve had a lot of fun and success with creating a fake game show that maybe has some elements from some real ones.  For example, “Name that _____” instead of Name That Tune where contestants have to name whatever it is you put in the blank (e.g. Job Title, Policy, Manager…whatever!)

If game shows aren’t your thing, that is perfectly ok.  As I said, there are tons of games out there that you can modify.  Just find one that fits your style and the type of content you are training.

If they are, check out this video where I show you how to build a Jeopardy style game in PowerPoint:

Getting out of the classroom

One of the coolest things we did as part of Walt Disney World Traditions was to go over to the Magic Kingdom.  We started in the “backstage” area where guests are not allowed and eventually ended up in the park and on a ride.  Talk about adding some fun!

Now, 99.9% of you reading this probably won’t have access to the world’s most popular theme park for your new employee orientation.  That’s ok.  The point here is to come up with some creative way to get the class out of the classroom.

Most of us really don’t relish sitting in a classroom all day long.  Even though we may be excited about starting our new job, sitting and listening to lectures all day is BORING.  If you can swing it, finding a reason to leave the classroom is a great way to energize your learners.

At Houston Methodist, we did a sort of team scavenger hunt.   Basically, we had groups of people go to different parts of the hospital campus and answer some questions.  The questions related to different topics like company history, values, service standards, etc…

The campus had a lot of rich history and the activity gave people a chance to see up close many of the topics we’d been covering throughout the day.

Even if you don’t have a particularly interesting company building or campus for a tour, there are other ways you can get out.  Maybe you can do lunch at a different location.  Or do a game or activity outside at a park.  If the class is being held at a hotel, you could rent some extra conference rooms and have groups move there for various activities.

Logistically, it can be challenging to figure out how to do this but it is well worth it to provide some variety and allow your participants to see something other than the front of a classroom all day.

Surprise Guests

Most new employee orientations will have more than one speaker. You usually have some involvement from various subject matter experts who may help with teaching some of the material.  That is great and does help with keeping things more interesting.  Even better?  A surprise guest!

What is a surprise guest?  Basically, someone who isn’t on the agenda that shows up at the orientation unbeknownst to the group. Of course, you will have arranged and scheduled it ahead of time but for the audience, it will be a surprise.

The ultimate example of this in my experience was from, where else, Disney World.  On Day 2, the participants got a very special surprise welcome from…..Joe, the EPCOT custodian!!!  Just kidding.  It was MICKEY MOUSE!  Yes, we actually had Mickey Mouse come in and take a picture with the class on day two.  People would actually start crying when they saw him.  It was AWESOME!!!

Ok, so once again, that may not be the most realistic option for your surprise guest.

In a couple of companies I worked for that weren’t run by a cartoon rodent, we used a different type of surprise guest.  Executive leadership.  I know that’s a bit of a let down after Mickey but having a Senior level company executive participate in your new employee orientation is a huge win.

At Healthlink, a small healthcare consulting company, we actually had the CEO come in and talk at each orientation.  Not a video of him.  He came in person, spoke to the new hires and answered questions.  That speaks volumes to your new employees.  It shows them that they are important and valued.

Even at Houston Methodist which had over 20,000 employees, we were able to get the system CEO once a quarter and a Senior level VP for other sessions.  They always added so much to the overall experience with their knowledge and sharing of what was going on with the company.  Employees always appreciated it and would often comment at how impressed they were that leadership would take the time to do that.

Now, the challenge with having these types of guests is scheduling.  These are very busy people and they do have things that can come up which take precedence over speaking to the new hires.  It’s a good idea to have a back up plan or presenter in case that happens.  But, again, the reward is definitely worth the risk if you can get them on the schedule.

Conclusion

Remember: New Employee Orientation does NOT have to be boring!  It is your opportunity to make a first impression with your new hires and you want to make it count.  As the trainer, a big part will simply be your attitude and demeanor throughout.  From there, you can easily take it to the next level by using some of the suggestions I’ve given here.

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