Behind the Scenes

Making it Count

How traveling to meetings — and seeing bad PowerPoints — affects the brain.

It’s become a habit of mine to view most of what I read and experience through a particular lens: How might this apply to the meetings industry? The connection is sometimes tenuous, but was easy to make in a recent article I read in The Costco Connection, the monthly magazine I receive for being a Costco member. (I should say an enthusiastic Costco member: I based my last car purchase on whether the trunk was large enough for my monthly visits to our local warehouse.)

The article featured an interview with Paul Nussbaum — president and founder of the Brain Health Center Inc., and a clinical neuropsychologist and adjunct professor of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine — who extolled the benefits of travel on the psyche. “Travel is good medicine,” he told The Costco Connection. “By exposing the brain to unique and new environments or challenges, the brain reacts. The new and challenging situations cause the brain to sprout dendrites, and this means the brain is growing. Travel, by definition, puts your brain into a place that’s novel and complex. You’re stunned a little bit, and your brain reacts by being engaged, and you begin to process on a deep level.”

Which means that when people travel to destinations to attend meetings, they’re already primed for engagement — in a mindset that makes them more receptive to learning new things and meeting new people, their brains like athletes that have warmed up for the race. What could prevent them from crossing the finish line?

Soul-crushing PowerPoint presentations, for one. In this month’s CMP Series, we take a hard look at the platform that has become synonymous with “presentation,” and check out alternative new platforms that attempt to create a more engaging experience.

“Experience” being the key word. As George P. Johnson CEO Chris Meyer told me when I interviewed him for “The Business World”  — a preview of what PCMA Global Corporate Summit participants will discuss this month in Milan — “any kind of event is truly an experience, and designing that experience to create emotional connections is what it’s all about.”

People do not make emotional connections with slides. They make emotional connections with speakers. If there’s one thing to take away from this month’s CMP Series story, it’s that you should remind your speakers that they are the presentation at your event, not the PowerPoint (or whatever other platform they use to help convey their message).

If the audience isn’t making that connection with speakers and fellow participants, why bother to come? Global Corporate Summit speaker Nigel Jeremy told me that there will always be cost constraints to travel, and that’s where technology comes in. But Jeremy, who has led global teams, underscored every meeting professional’s challenge with face-to-face events. “It’s about making it count,” he said, “when you’re with people.”

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.