An eight-hour, all-day Zoom meeting sounds exhausting…especially when it spans over a few days. But it doesn’t have to be. Add a little surprise, excitement, and intrigue with an “experience box”?
It’s a box of goodies shipped to each participants’ home or office (wherever they tell us!) and the goodies are opened up at key moments during the meeting.
I was first inspired by Shari Bricks, CEO of Bond Association and Event Management who coordinated an experience box for a board meeting I was facilitating. All of us received a box in the mail a day or two before the event – with express directions NOT to open the box until the day of the meeting!
Then, on that day, we opened the box as a group (it was a small group!) to see a bunch of colorful items wrapped in tissue and wrapping paper. Ohhhh, it was so tempting to open them all, but there were explicit instructions NOT to open any of the packages until instructed to do so. At specific times, we were told to open a specific package – usually going to a break, coming back from a break, or tied into a meeting activity. It was so much fun to have us all open our packages at the same time! I loved the concept so much, that I have put together several boxes for my clients as well.
It’s actually quite a bit of work…but once you’ve done it a few times, you create a system and cadence that makes it go smoothly. So here are Shari and my tips for creating memorable experience boxes that will be the hit of your meeting!
The Contents of An Experience Box
Think about your audience. What do they like? What have they normally experienced during an in-person meeting? Everyone likes food items and that is an easy way to start your box. Try to re-create that sense of community:
- “Breakfast” – an organza bag with two kinds of tea and Starbucks instant coffee (one caffeinated and the other de-caffeinated) and a bag of hot chocolate mix. A biscotti. A single-serve fruit cup with a plastic spoon and napkin.
- “Lunch” – an Uber Eats gift card is always a pleasant surprise, but you need to open that package at the first break so people can order lunch with it. Be advised, while Uber Eats is available in most areas, it may not cover ALL of your participants. So check with other providers and as a last resort, speak to them individually to coordinate how they can have something sent locally.
- “Snacks” – is always a matter of preference and budget. One of my clients is a BIG fan of Gardettos snack mix, which worked really well. Another liked trail mix, Kind bars, M&Ms, Lindt truffles, cheese crackers, a bag of microwave popcorn, a bag of potato chips…you get the idea!
- “Refreshments” – It’s important to stay hydrated throughout the day, so I added a cool water bottle along with an energy drink sachet.
- “Happy Hour” – You can get really creative here! A wine glass or tumbler, a tetra pack of wine, a miniature bottle of alcohol – along with a signature drink recipe. Costco sells “vodka pops” which are fun to wrap along with the non-alcoholic equivalent of “Otter pops”. At the beginning of the day, ask them to put that package in the freezer!
You can also include items that support the meeting, and can often be used after the meeting as well:
- Theme-Related. Tie in items to the theme of the event or that speaks to the location of where the event/meeting may have been held. We were supposed to have met in Sanibel, Florida, so we ordered some seashells, wrapped them in an organza bag and the President eloquently used this gift in her closing remarks. Brilliant!
- Speaker Related. Ask your speakers if they have a suggestion for the experience box too! Books are a great resource and tool. You can even include a certificate to the speaker’s ebook as well.
- Segment Related. Aya Estrin, Symphony Talent’s Director of Events, paired their closing “fireside chat” with a scented candle with a wooden wick that crackled and smelled like they were sitting by a fireplace! She also included a glow necklace and bracelet for the DJ segment. (Reference)
- Shari got me hooked on using a whiteboard for team members to answer a question, draw a picture, etc. She likes to brand them with the company logo – and don’t forget to include an erasable marker (and maybe an eraser as well)!
- At a certain point in our discussion, I knew we were going to talk about money. So I wrapped up a $100,000 bar to open at the beginning of that discussion.
- Include miniature colored flags, agree/disagree paddles, or just colored cards to take a poll.
- Just for Fun. Have some coloring sheets and crayons. Make a bingo card.
- Be Creative! Shari customized a paddle that says “You’re on mute!” How fun is that?
The Packaging of An Experience Box
Once you have decided the contents, create a mock-up of one of the boxes, determining the approximate size and weight.
- You may be able to use USPS Priority Mail shipping – which comes with a free box! If your box needs to be bigger or you want something snazzier, you can purchase a strong mailer box from Uline or customize your own at Kinkos. You want to make sure the box survives shipping and arrives looking great! (You may even send the mockup to yourself to make sure it will work as intended).
- Shipping Rates. Compare prices and delivery dates between carriers. USPS has sizable rate differences between flat rate boxes and the priority mail boxes for locations in your region. FedEx has surprising residential-to-residential ground rates, so shop around!
- Packing Material. I like using crinkle paper to fill the box – although I had no clue how much to buy! I now estimate 20 experience boxes per 10lb. box of crinkle paper.
- Tissue Paper. Each item should have its own color – and for ease of wrapping, I use a full sheet for each item. (Okay, if it is really small, I’ll cut a sheet in half). I found these on Amazon and they work really well. And don’t forget to have lots of scotch tape on hand!
- Envelopes. Some items are better wrapped in an envelope. Sure, you can use white or manila, but why not get some colored envelopes for a little variety? I use envelopes for gift cards, books, and for the whiteboard paddle/marker combo.
- Labels. I have found it helpful to put a label on the outside to distinguish between packages. After all, some people are colorblind or can’t follow instructions. So I bought these 2” round labels – you can’t miss them! Sequence the items to match up when they will be opened on the agenda.
- Welcome Letter. When you first open the box, have a letter, sheet of paper, or card that shares the good news and instructions. Shari likes to put a card on the inside cover of the lid of the box, so when they open the box, they immediately see the card and the instructions. This is a great way to express your thanks to your attendees for taking the time to be at the upcoming meeting or event.
- Shipping Label. You can be boring and bland or print some colorful shipping labels with the event logo and “A Special Gift From…” and “Don’t Open Until Instructed”.
The Assembly of An Experience Box
Shari says “Experience boxes allow you to actually think ‘inside the box’ in terms of layout, placement, wrapping, colors used for crinkle paper and tissue paper.” And putting this all together will take more time than you think. Trust me.
- Dedicated Space. Carve out space where you can put the items in order as they are received and wrapped. The first time I did this, it was all over the house. Now, I use the garage. Item 1 then Item 2, then Item 3….all along the floor.
- Colors and Labels. Determine the order of the color of the tissue paper and labels – making sure that the labels and the tissue paper contrast nicely.
- Wrap. As you get an item together, you can leisurely wrap the appropriate number of packages needed for that item. I do this while watching the news!
- Layout. Think about the optimal placement of each item in the box – you’ll want to follow that same template as you put the boxes together.
- Tape/Assemble Boxes. Boxes will arrive flat, so you’ll have to do some pre-assembly/taping of the boxes. Line them up on the other side of the room.
- Assembly Line. When ready to pack, just take a box, and roll down the line! Place the packed boxes back on the other side of the room, so you’re going full circle!
- Add the Crinkle Paper. Just enough to fill the box comfortably, then add the note, welcome card.
- Last-Minute Check. You want to make sure you didn’t leave anything out! If you used the assembly-line approach, you probably did not. But if you didn’t….
- Ship It! Tape up the boxes and take them to your post office, FedEx or UPS Store. (You can also have them come pick up with pre-paid shipping).
I start receiving comments and compliments about the experience box from the moment it hits their doorstep. People rave about them. They take pictures and post them as a special thanks on their social media channels. They are memorable. And makes the day go by so much faster!
For more information about how to lead your team in the virtual environment, use these resources.
KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CPF | Master, CSP is a high-stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator. She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 27 years. She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action. Her latest book, 123 Ways to Add Pizazz to a Panel Discussion was published in January 2021.