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I've long been a fan of Kare Anderson, whose research on human behavior is always illuminating. Recently I ran across this post she wrote on the Harvard Business Review blog:

What captures your attention controls your life. As with other mind-body connection information, I think this little post packs a powerful insight punch if you apply it to meetings.

For example, Kare's discussion of the difference between what parents at Disney World thought they were paying attention to (Disney characters and their kids) was not where their kids saw their attention going (which was, of course, to their cell phones). Take a look around at your next meeting and check to see if there's any discrepancy between what you think people are paying attention to—say, your speakers, exhibitors, and entertainment—and what they really are paying attention to (which, as is the case at Disney, sadly likely will be their cellphones). What can you do to either capture their attention, or work with where they already are putting their focus, to help them get the most out of your meeting? The answers to those questions may well be the predictors of your meeting's success or failure.

Update: I asked Kare about how her post might specifically relate to meetings. This is what she had to say:

The Disney example in my HBR column is a wake-up call for meeting planners to station people to observe attendees throughout the conference to notice where they are looking—or not… at the speaker, for example, or a cell phone.

When they walk the halls, do they have things with which they can interact and that also might spark interaction with other attendees, or is it a bland hall so they avoid eye contact, do not engage, etc.?

Not in the article yet related to attention/distraction:

1. Especially when standing close, patterns on the upper half of one's body (shirt, ornate jewelry, etc.) shorten attention spans of those we are facing.

2. Ambient noise (air conditioning, for example, in a meeting room) reduces attention & increases agitation, largely subconsciously

3. Motion engages attention: Standing behind a podium is less emotional and attention-grabbing than moving around a stage. Motion from a mobile, hung from a ceiling, perhaps of parts of the conference them, attract attention—if inspiring or funny then they evoke a positive emotion that "infects" the viewer who also then transfers that feeling to the next few people they see (hint: brings attendees closer).

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