Meeting planning is most certainly an art, but it’s also a science. Every aspect of the meeting—from the color of the room to the food at the banquet—affects the attendee experience. Jonathan Bradshaw, founder, Meetology Research Institute, East Sussex, U.K., spoke about the science of meetings at the 2012 Professional Convention Management Association’s Convening Leaders meeting in January. He outlined nine scientifically proven ways to engage attendees’ brains.
1. Play. Incorporating play into meetings can reduce stress, improve problem-solving, spark creativity, foster social interaction, and raise energy levels. He asked attendees to participate in a round of rock, paper, scissors during the session, which lightened the mood and got people interacting.
2. Manage your diet. “What you put in your mouth is going to affect how you perform,” said Bradshaw. Foods that provide “brain fuel” include berries, spinach, salad, fish, walnuts, and eggs, he said. Tea, water, chocolate (cocoa beans), and red wine are also good for the brain. Eating breakfast is critically important, even if it’s just a snack from the mini-bar, he added. Eggs are especially good because they contain chemicals that help the brain function. “It is like oiling the engine that is our brain.” Fizzy drinks and sugary snacks, on the other hand, provide a momentary lift, but don’t sustain attendees. Eating often in small amounts keeps the brain fueled up.
3. Meditate. Turn off the cell phones and take time for meditation at meetings, said Bradshaw. It calms attendees down, allows them to reflect and focus, and, above all, makes them “present” at the meeting.
4. Music. Most people have heard of the “Mozart effect,” the theory that Mozart’s music improves brain function, but studies have shown that it’s not just Mozart’s compositions but music in general that improves mental acuity. Bradshaw suggests working with organizations such as Song Division that create events in which attendees write and perform music.
5. Stimulate. Coffee is not only a morning pick-me-up, it stimulates the brain, so embrace it at meetings. Beyond caffeine, scientists are creating drugs that stimulate the brain and improve memory. “This is an interesting area to be aware of in the meetings industry because it’s coming,” he said.
6. Exercise. “What’s good for our bodies is good for our brains,” Bradshaw said. Incorporating exercise—running, yoga, pilates—into meetings is important because it increases the flow of oxygen to the brain, which improves its function.
7. Distract them. “Give people a chance to get away from the meeting and do something else,” he said. Give attendees time to go for a walk, chat in the halls, play, or do what they want. People can’t meet nonstop for three days straight. A break in the meeting gives attendees time to relax and process information.
8. Arouse the senses. Anchoring is the term used to describe when a certain stimulus connects to a particular state of mind, for example, when we hear a song or smell something that transports us to a place or a time in our life. How do you create a sensory experience that attendees connect with your event? Marriott hotels, Bradshaw said, creates a sensory connection with its guests by having the same scents in every hotel worldwide. Why not send out a meeting soundtrack before your event so attendees can connect the music with the meeting?
9. Color me blue (or red). “Red and blue are colors that make a huge impact,” said Bradshaw. Blue has been shown to improve creativity while red fosters attention to detail. Consider room colors when designing meetings. A blue room could be used for brainstorming while red rooms could enhance more specific tasks.
The Meetology Research Institute collects, organizes, and disseminates the scientific research affecting human behavior and performance at meetings and is sponsored by the PCMA Foundation.