The Intersection

Your Brain on Meetings

“For the very first time,” Janet Sperstad, CMP, says, “we are able to really look inside a healthy brain.”

Founder and director of the meeting and event-management degree program at Madison Area Technical College, Sperstad discusses neuroscience and its growing influence on live events in “Mindful Meeting Design,” this month’s video for The Intersection: Where Technology Meets Inspiration, presented by PCMA and PSAV Presentation Services.

The challenge is on planners to create programming that acknowledges that “in a very intentional way.”

This isn’t just an academic notion. “I wouldn’t say that we have a formal effort along these lines,” David Rich, senior vice president of client services for George P. Johnson Experience Marketing, said in an interview with Convene, “but I would say it’s one of the many things that we’re looking at in our organization as a way to better understand how to create experiences and move people to action.”

For example? “One of the things that has come out is that the brain needs rest at a certain point in its rhythm,” Rich said, “which for most people is somewhere between two and three o’clock in the afternoon.” The challenge is on planners to create programming that acknowledges that “in a very intentional way” and “takes advantage of the biorhythms of the human body.”

Another must? Understanding that the human mind is hardwired to seek out variety, going back to our earliest days, when detecting a pattern break on an open plain could mean life or death. “It was your job to determine, is that a threatening animal that’s coming at me that’s going to kill me,” Rich said, “or is that something that’s completely benign or irrelevant?”

The stakes might not be quite so dramatic at a conference, but the brain’s underlying programming remains the same. “Our formats that we create, our agendas for meetings and events,” Rich said, “have to build in a certain amount of variation to keep people engaged.”

Combining that with the reality of the brain’s mid-afternoon downshift, you might consider an assortment of programming in what Rich calls “the two-o’clock-to-four-o’clock Death Valley time block.” That could mean using Pecha Kucha presentations — 20 slides shown for 20 seconds each — to convey “headlines,” 18-minute TED-style talks for “core principles,” and traditional 45- to 90-minute breakout sessions for “the deep discovery of information that gives you the how-to behind the principles and behind the headlines.”

Mindful Meetings 101

1. Neuroscience is a relatively new field being applied to several industries, now including meetings and events.

2. Neuroscience helps us understand how event-design elements can influence positive brain function.

3. Create an experience where attendees engage, network, and learn with effects that mimic nature and stimulate the brain in a direction that supports your messages and objectives.

4. When using multisensory stimuli, be careful not to confuse or overwhelm attendee brains.

5. Rely on research and experts to find the right timing for execution between simple and sudden or complex and gradual.

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.