Meetings & Your Brain

Silence Really Is Golden

Research shows that short periods of quiet time help us process our experiences. Here's what that means for events.

During a keynote session or gala event, it’s not uncommon to ask the audience to observe a moment of silence, usually as a respectful way to mark a sad occasion. But a number of research studies suggest that intentionally incorporating blocks of silence during conference programs could help reinforce what participants are learning and enhance their overall experience.

We’ve been discovering the benefits of meditation in business and the meetings industry, and it would seem that taking a more simple approach — shutting off the audio and requesting a short period of quiet without any guidance toward contemplation, visualization, or repeating a mantra — may also provide your attendees’ minds with restorative benefits. According to a Nautilus article, neuroscience tells us that a total absence of input helps put the brain in “resting” mode — a bit of a misnomer because the “resting” brain is constantly active, gathering and evaluating information. And, studies have shown, focused attention diminishes that kind of scanning activity.

Randomly inserted periods of silence proved far more relaxing than soothing music.

Much of what scientists have learned about the benefits of silence has been by accident. For example, when physician Luciano Bernardi did a study in 2006 on the physiological effects of music, he found the most striking finding took place between musical tracks. Randomly inserted periods of silence proved far more relaxing — measured by changes in the subjects’ blood pressure, carbon dioxide, and brain circulation — than soothing music. 

Silence is, of course, largely absent from events: We provide nonstop speakers and a packed education program, we encourage lots of noisy activity on the show floor, we host deafening networking breaks and events, and we play loud music to pump up the audience before a general session. But all of that sets up an ideal opportunity, because scientists have found that silence is heightened by contrasts, and therefore has a more beneficial effect on the brain.  

Perhaps the Finnish Tourist Board is on to something with its “Silence, Please” marketing campaign. When Finnish marketers developed the campaign, Nautilus reports, they reasoned that “silence is a resource,” that could be promoted just like Finland’s clean water and wild mushrooms. In 2010, they published their “Country Brand Report,” which became the basis for the tourist board’s theme. “In the future,” they wrote, “people will be prepared to pay for the experience of silence.”

 

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.