Talking Creativity & Games with Les Christie

Are you one of those planners who gets anxious thinking about creating fun during your events? Do you feel overwhelmed when you consider where you’d start, how you’d execute or how your ideas might be received? 

If this sounds like you, we talked to someone who may be able to help. Les Christie has been known specifically for designing and leading fun games and activities for groups. And while Les has extensive experience in youth ministry events, his expertise has been shared with planners and industry professionals from different demographics and backgrounds. 

We had a conversation with Les about what he’s learned from decades of engaging audiences, leaning into creativity and learning the value of helping groups have some fun.

How did you get into leading creative and fun experiences for others?

My dad and grandfather both worked for the movie industry. They were both very creative. I am grateful that a little of that rubbed off on me. 

 I was the youth minister at one church in southern California for 22 years. I did my best to help teens discover God and their own creative self. Many of them have gone into a lot of fascinating careers, some in the movie industry. Our high school youth group grew from 14 students to 500. We had a lot of people checking out what we were doing to create such a crowd. People who ran events and conventions in SoCal and other parts of the country would come by our church to check it all out. Some ended up inviting me to speak, lead games and creative experiences at their events.

How have you helped event planners add creativity and interaction to their events? 

I usually ask questions. Starting with, what is the specific purpose of this event? What do you want people to take home from this experience? What do you think those coming to the event are looking for, expecting? Event planners need to put themselves into the mind set of those attending. 

Interaction helps planners and those attending to tear down their emotional walls and get people mingling and going deeper. Challenge those attending to ask, is there another way to look at this? Small groups provide shared experiences that become shared memories that they can take home.

We should want to develop richer imaginations, tapping into our God given creativity. The kind of play I am talking about releases stress, boosts self-esteem, and builds community. 

Choose cooperative activates that bring people together so that when they are finished they are better friends then when they started. Look for activities in which cooperation among players is necessary. We want to play with one another rather than against one another. The emphasis should be on having fun, where wining becomes irrelevant or anticlimactic. 

What’s been your experience leading adults in creative activities? 

I have found that most adults are tired of just sitting through speaker after speaker at conventions. The thought of just being able to get up, stretch and move around is so inviting.

I think fun and creativity are educated out of us. A great deal of our education seems designed to teach us “what” to think instead of “how” to think. We enter school with a question mark, but graduate with a period.
Most people go through life without ever knowing how fun and creative they really are. How sad is that? I believe everyone has creative potential—and it’s possible to discover his or her hidden creativity. Creativity is the ability to bring something new into existence by using imagination, ingenuity and inventiveness. All event planners should seek to help attendees find their uniqueness, freshness and originality. Events should be a breeding ground for wonder, passion and unpredictability. 

Why do you think planners hesitate to incorporate games and fun activities at an event? 

It can be scary for an event planner, when the topic of the convention, seminar or workshop is something very serious. Bringing in a game or learning experience is a little risky. It is not like a speech where you have control. In games you are never sure exactly what will happen.

I would strongly suggest to planners to have a game up front before the serious part of the session. The game gets people moving, talking, interacting, relaxing, and having fun.

Depending on the speaker and their topic I would also suggest a game or interactive activity at the end of the session that ties in with the topic or message. A time to debrief in small groups.

A game can give participants a chance to breathe. Games are universal. I have traveled a bit and I can tell you this: I’ve yet to see a country where people don’t want to laugh and play games of some kind. Games can improve problem solving skills and help participants’ deal with life’s stresses. Games build community, acceptance, and a sense of belonging. Games provide good, clean, trouble-free fun.

What is one activity that seems to work at any event? 

A fun, quick little game is “Fingers Up”. Have all participants stand up and pair up (give them a moment to find a partner). Face their partner with their hands behind their back. On your count of three (123), have the participants bring both hands in front of their face so that their partners can see their hands. Each person should hold up as many fingers on each hand as he or she chooses. This is a fun game between partners, not with anyone else in the room.
The object is to be the first of the pair to say the total number of fingers being held up by all four hands (closed fist means zero fingers).

Tell participants there is a secret to the game. The secret is to count the number of fingers you’re going to hold up before you bring your hands out from behind your back. Then you just have to add the number of fingers that your partner is holding up to the total you’re holding up. Play three rounds of this game.

What advice, tips and cautions do you have for using games and activities? 

  • Don't pick games with complicated rules or require a lot of equipment.

  • Explain the game simply, clearly and quickly

  • Demonstrate the game if possible. Talk less, demonstrate more. Don’t intellectualize a game; most questions are answered as they play.

  • Encourage participation but don’t force it.  Allow people to observe until they feel comfortable joining in. 

  • Put them in their playing positions before explaining the instructions

  • Would you rather play a game where first place is 100,000 points or 10 points? Give lots of points, they cost you nothing.

  • Keep the point spread close: 1st gets 100,000, 2nd gets 99,000, 3rd gets 98,000. Even if they only get 91,000 they are still in the game. 

  • Stop a game at its peak. You know a game has passed its peak when people stop playing the game. What they remember is the last 20 seconds of the game. Don’t let it fizzle out. 

  • Look for games that are fun to describe, fun to watch, and fun to play.

  • Choose a game where everyone is on an equal footing.

  • Never ask a group “Would you like to play a game?” because someone will yell out “NO”. Just tell the audience to get into playing positions. Five minutes later they realize they are playing a game and they love it.

  • Introduce a game in a way that arouses interest and creates anticipation and lead games with enthusiasm.

  • When dividing groups do some randomly so you don't end up with cliques. One idea is to hand out different colored candy jawbreakers as they enter the room. When it is time to divide into teams have them stick out their tongues. Blue tongues in one corner, red in another and so on. Or put them in groups according to the month of their birthdays. Or put them in groups according to their toilet paper choice (folders or scrunching).

  • Leaders should participate in the activity as much as possible. When you are participating it is not advisable to be the center.  Nothing can more quickly gain the respect and affection of the participants than joining a game, discussion or activity with them.

Les Christie has written articles in over 150 national magazines and journals. He had along tenure as a university professor, and is well known in the ministry world for his expertise in creative programming. Some say he's the “godfather of games!” authoring 17 books, including books on the topics of creativity and games. Born in Liverpool, England, Les has lived in California since he was five years old. He is married to his wife Gretchen, has two sons Brent and David and three grandchildren. 

Drew Brown