Mary Beth McEuen, executive director of The Maritz Institute, kicked off the final morning of the 8th Annual Pharmaceutical Meeting Management Forum—now called Pharma Forum 2012—by tickling participants’ brains with how meeting managers can harness what we now know about the bioscience of human behavior to produce meetings that more fully engage attendees. The job of planning meetings, she said, must now entail merging the science and art of engagement to help people reach their learning potential. This is also the mission of The Maritz Institute, which brings neuroscientists, academics, and businesspeople together to co-create solutions for real-world business challenges. The conference, which was held March 26 at the Orlando World Center Marriott Resort and Convention Center, was co-sponsored by Medical Meetings and The Center for Business Intelligence.

She quoted author and Cleghorn professor of management studies at the Desautels Faculty of Management of McGill University Henry Mintzberg, who said, “Companies must remake themselves into places of engagement. People are social animals who cannot function without a social system that is larger than ourselves. This is what is meant by community.” The same can be said for meetings, she added.

The World Is Changing
“The game has changed,” McEuen said, thanks in large part to the rise of social media. In an age of participation and collaboration,“if they are not participating, it’s just noise.” She said we are also beginning to embrace the idea of “enoughness,” where we have enough stuff; now we want to create value. We’re also shifting from working in slow-moving hierarchical structures to networks that enable us to work and innovate more quickly. And, now that everything happens through a web of relationships, every meeting is a vehicle to achieve both individual and organizational potential. “Think of every meeting as an opportunity to both help individuals achieve and anchor the purpose and value of the organization,” she said.

She discussed Maslow’s hierarchy-of-needs pyramid, which has as its base physical and emotional safety and security, moves through success and esteem, and is topped with self-actualization or, as McEuen characterized it, “expression.” Each of these levels has its own set of emotions attached, she added. When you’re engaged mainly on the security level, you value thrift, authority, tradition, protection, conformity, and acceptance. When you’re in the middle, it’s all about challenge, competition, ambition, action, achievement, independence, materialism, prestige, and recognition. Once you get to the expression level, thrill-seeking, community, passion, authenticity, experimentation, self-expression, and meaning come to the forefront.

“These are additive, with each level adding values as we go up,” she said.

Meetings Create Meaning
McEuen cited a 2009 Forbes Insight study that asked 760 business executives why they meet face to face. Building stronger, more meaningful relationships came out on top at 85 percent. Not far behind, 77 percent pointed to the ability to read body language and expressions, and three-quarters said they valued the ability to bond and have more social interaction. This is why virtual hasn’t, and won’t, replace face-to-face meetings, she said.

For example, she mentioned a meeting being held shortly after an organization had undergone a complete reorganization and needed to build trust among leadership and employees. The organization’s leader greeted attendees and sent them to a part of the room that represented their part of the organization. Their section leaders, and then the organization’s chief executive, spoke to the teams, then they all had dinner together. The key thing was that they spent at least as much time building relationships as they did on content, said McEuen, which is something she predicts planners will be asked to do more of.

Make Meetings Places of Engagement
McEuen urged planners in the audience to explore the insights into human motivation and behavior today’s neuroscience findings are uncovering, and use them to help creatively design “places of engagement.”

Among the scientific insights planners need to know is that people are always both rational and emotional, she said, adding that there are no purely rational decisions—everything is filtered by emotion. “Plato taught that reason needs to rein in emotions, the way the driver of a chariot reins in the horses,” McEuen said. The reality, however, is more analogous to someone riding an elephant—“when they disagree, guess who wins?”

Also, planners need to recognize that people are driven by multiple motivators. Echoing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, she said that people are driven to acquire material goods, status, and resources—and the same brain centers activate whether what you acquire is a new Lexus or promotion to a higher job title. When people are motivated by acquisition, they feel competitive, powerful, and superior. They are also driven to defend their stuff, status, ideas, and relationships—anything they claim as theirs. This motivator causes people to defend members of their group, and the ideals and purpose that hold the group together, and can make people feel angry, frightened, and anxious.

People also are driven to engage, cooperate, and fit into their community, which makes them feel cooperative, protected, and grateful. The highest motivator causes people to be driven to create a better self, team, organization, and world. This makes them feel awe, curiosity, and wonder.

“Meetings can tap these emotions that underlie these drives,” said McEuen.

People need to acquire knowledge and information. They also need to defend their organization and what it stands for, build relationships, and participate in creating something. And meetings can help make that happen, she said.

But not if we stick with what we’ve been doing. We still meet like schoolchildren 200 years ago, sitting quietly in rows and listening to the teacher, she said. How can you create a space that will use knowledge of human motivation and behavior to design places of engagement? McEuen challenged the audience to think about how to arrange the physical environment to engage attendees, which could include providing a variety of seating options, setting up pods where conversations can happen, or creating a dialogue in the round.

Think about the best meeting you ever attended and what made it so memorable. How can you imbue your meetings with the shared purpose and value of your organization? What can you do to capture your attendees’ attention through relevance and novelty, help them build relationships, and enable them to participate in co-creative dialogue?

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