Escape the Ordinary

Scrabble Board with Word Escape spelled out in tiles

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Molly Marsh Cropped Photo

Molly Marsh


A vile of poisonous gas was just dropped, you’re locked in the lab with your fellow scientists and you’ll all be dead in an hour if you can’t hack into the system to override the lockdown. Sound familiar? If you’ve been to any of the Escape Room or Breakout Game facilities popping up all over the world, it probably does. The challenge of solving puzzles, riddles and decoding clues to break out before time runs out has become a hit for team-building activities, friends and family celebrations, clubs and organizations, pretty much everyone!

A Group Shot of the Escape team players
The Escape Team Players

The activities stretch your mind to test different perspectives, encourage creativity and require good collaboration among all members of the group. That sounds a lot like what most associations want participants to experience at their conferences and events! Hosting an Escape Room at your conference is a unique way to bring attendees together, but it’s not just for team building. These creative exercises prime the brain to be more open and receptive to the information shared in your educational program, to embracing new ideas or opportunities and to reflect on what they can bring back from the conference to add value to their organizations.

Bringing the fun, energy and collaborative learning of an Escape Room to your conference is not as challenging – or cost-prohibitive – as you might think. The National Association of State Procurement Officials (NASPO) recently included an Escape Room activity at their Annual Conference using a breakout room, a conference laptop and about $30 worth of supplies.

The structure of the activity can follow the familiar pattern used for most Escape Room activities:

  • The Scenario – This is the story of how the group came to be stuck in the room and what overall problem or challenge you’re trying to solve. For NASPO, they had 30 minutes to gather information for an important meeting with the governor. The story can be anything related to your industry or common issues your participants encounter in their work.
  • The Puzzles – Most Escape Room activities are really just a series of puzzles, riddles, clues, locks and codes that are solved in a particular order. This blog has some great ideas for escape room activities, so you’ll just want to keep the environment in mind. Things like custom puzzles, codes or ciphers to solve, combination locks or using images to convey numbers/messages are all highly portable, low cost and easily adaptable to a conference breakout room environment.
  • The Timer – Part of what makes the challenges so exciting is racing the clock. Don’t underestimate the power of the clock to bring the group together. Escape Rooms are highly scalable so whether you have 15-minutes or an hour, you can build an activity with the right number of puzzles for the time allotted and incorporate it where it fits best in your agenda.

One parting lesson, make sure you test, test and re-test your escape room activity before the event. Participants will find all the short-cuts and loopholes they can to break out, even if that derails the purpose of the activity. Make sure you have lots of test rounds to tweak and update the activity so it’s a positive challenge for all.

Molly Marsh Cropped Photo
Molly Marsh

Degrees and Credentials:
Certified Meeting Professional (CMP); Bachelor of Arts, Transylvania University

Association Management Professional Since:

What inspires you about your work?
I have a passion for the world of professional associations and the essential support, resources and connections they provide for members. I am an adult learning and meeting design nerd –I am continually inspired by the chance to design face-to-face meetings and innovate content strategy with new techniques, technologies and ideas.

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