Pet Please #132: Flickering Lights as an Alternative to Yelling

winonw-700x525I have a new, very specific pet please.

On Saturday, I ran an annual event for my company called the Stonemaier Games Design Day. It’s a gathering of game designers and gamers to playtest games, learn new games, and generally just talk about games.

Each year, we crowd 75-85 people into a social hall for the event. It’s a very structured day, with attendees signing up for all sessions in advance. Each person will have between 8 and 10 different gaming sessions throughout the day, so it’s important for everything to stay on schedule.

In the past, when it was time for each session to end, I would raise my voice above the din of the room and tell everyone to wrap up. Usually a few minutes later I would do the same, as people sometimes need a second reminder.

Essentially I was yelling at a bunch of people 15 times over the course of the day. I don’t like yelling at anyone once, much less 15 times.

So this year it occurred to me that there might be a better way. I told attendees in advance that instead of yelling, I would flicker the lights when a session needed to end and then again a few minutes later when the next session began.

I wasn’t sure how well it would work, but as it turns out, it was rather magical. The lights really caught people’s attention. Never once did I have to intervene by yelling. In fact, I didn’t raise my voice the entire day.

I loved the impact of this system, so I thought I’d share it with you. I like it even better than using a microphone (particularly at this event), because there’s really no need for me ever to announce anything. I can share all announcements by e-mail in advance–I don’t need to interrupt the flow of the day by monologuing.

Have you ever used the flickering lights system at an event? Did it work?


8 Responses to “Pet Please #132: Flickering Lights as an Alternative to Yelling”

  1. T-Mac says:

    I love it! I’ve used the flickering light in events. Two other ideas that seems to work are using a small chime to call people to action (something you can do on the move as you walk around–we use it to return people from breaks when they’re scattered around a larger area) and music (playing a song to incite action).

  2. margot says:

    teachers use this too in some classrooms

    • Stephen says:

      Another teacher technique that can work with adults is ‘hand up quiet mouth’ if you need to make an announcement – Enough people are aware of it that when they see you doing it they do it themselves, and those unaware of it start following suit, somewhat confusedly, until it’s silent so you can give your announcement, at which point there’s less confusion for the next announcement.

  3. I’ve been a live event technician for about 20 years and I’ve worked at all sorts of conventions, congresses, trade shows as well as festivals, concerts and theater productions. Raising your voice to a yell shows that you are in desperate need of a PA system. A simple speaker on a floor stand with a microphone plugged in qualifies as a PA. The option is there to play a chime or a recognizable sound to signal the end/start of a session by plugging in a mobile device or laptop via the headphone jack.

    As I’ve worked in nightclubs operating lights, and I have the faint memory of high school dances, turning on the lights is used to kill the mood and get people to stop doing what they are doing ASAP so that they clear out. Also, strobe lights are used in lighting setups to create a visual “punch”. I’m not sure if you see where I’m going with this but when it comes to running an event I find that anything that messes with the lighting or the visibility in a venue is an aesthetic no-no. For me it’s the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. The idea of playing a simple chime seems to be a much better solution. Just saying.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Thanks Brent! I can see how it may not work in some places, but it really did work quite well at our event. Any noise would have interrupted our guests and the flow of the event, while the lights just provided a gentle reminder, which is all they needed.

  4. foodcravejas says:

    I faintly remember teachers use this technique without raising their voices to let us know it’s time to for the next event/move to the next room on our Junior Achievement day in fourth or fifth grade. We had limited time in each room; one room was to sell products, another assemble products/teamwork, and other two rooms something else. The sell products room was a fun one. It was a speed walk around the room to do quick buys with our limited amount of fake paper money. One group was selling balloons stuff with flour. That was a hot item because it was an awesome squeeze ball! Anyway, kids can get pretty noisy and really into what they are doing so selective hearing is bound to occur in the majority. Those sudden times of temporary darkness surely caught our attention.

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