Walking into the theater the other night for the play Translations by the great Irish playwright Brian Friel, we were greeted by the liveliest of Irish music. It transported me back to County Clare or Galway where I've been fortunate enough to visit. Another woman started step dancing in tune. In fact, everyone seemed to enter the theater with an extra lilt in their gait.
In their report titled Purposeful Meetings: How to Plan with Deeper Meaning, Innovation, and Insight in Mind, authors Janet Sperstad and Amanda Cecil write about the importance of behavioral science—listening, feeling—in events we attend. "Meeting planners need to understand how the brain reacts and processes information in order to leverage attendees' behavior, thinking and feelings and to create powerful social experiences."
Sure enough, a primary idea is to "synchronize the brainwaves of everyone in a space to be more positive and receptive," by playing music or other sounds in a session room when attendees walk in. Another way is through storytelling. "Data makes [something] believable, while stories make it meaningful," they write.
Of course, events do use music like that but I wonder how much thought goes into it. The same goes for the spaces we use. I walked into a 10th floor conference room Thursday in New York for a committee meeting and was met by the beautiful Manhattan skyline with a classy conference table in the center. Each person seemed to smile a little as she or he entered the room, feeling a sense of value and knowing the next two hours would be spent in a positive environment.
"We would like to challenge planners to first think about how to use space to create moments that enhance attendee experience and focus on human peak performance ... then start designing," Sperstad and Cecil write. Wrote Associations Now: "That means creating experiences that work with the natural ebbs and flows of attendees' energy levels. For instance, they suggest slotting peer-to-peer and case study work sessions after lunch, when the brain is relaxed." (That might also be the best time for the "20-minute power naps" they recommend.)
A post on Event Manager Blog has its own recommendations for jazzing up your meeting rooms. "Try adding chalkboard walls to a common meeting space. These are excellent for collaborative learning and brainstorming, require minimal tech and can be useful for bringing teams together," says the post. Indoor gardens, beanbag chairs and fireplaces also make their list.
Another event add-on that planners are having success with—especially with younger attendees—is the idea of volunteering in the community, anything from tree planting to collecting bikes to cleaning up a community center. Sperstad and Cecil encourage organizations to offer more of these activities, as they provide "opportunities for individuals to include others, and to reshape their own perspectives, all of which are fundamental to the transformative power of events."
At an annual conference that Informa holds called Esca Bona, part of the marketing reinforces their commitment to the topic of healthy eating. "At each Esca Bona event we partner with a local organization, school or community to help address key challenges of the local food ecosystem." It has been very successful.
Technology is another area where the authors argue that conversations need to change. It "must move away from equipment, platforms and data to how using the best tools can accelerate communication and transform experience." For example, technology can provide ways for introverts to more easily share in the conversation. "The real power of event technology is to facilitate people meeting and exchanging ideas in ways that would not otherwise organically happen," the authors write.
Speaking of organically, offering healthier eating options is another suggestion the authors put forward. Download their report here.