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Summer Reading List: Books on Happiness, Neuroscience, Games and More

August 9, 2012

Introduction

I know just what you’re thinking: summer is just about over. The cross-country flight has been flown and the week at the beach is over. I hear ya.

But a long weekend is but a few weeks away (Labor Day) and it’s never too late to pick up some great books for the Fall (or for, gasp, the holidays).

What follows are recommendations for books I’ve read recently. I must warn you: the list contains neither the super-latest releases nor any current New York Times bestsellers. Without further ado, here’s my list of five:

1) Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh

I read this book one year ago. I purchased the book expecting to hear about Tony Hsieh’s approach to delivering great customer service at Zappos. And while the book does include insights related to that, it’s scope is really much more.

Hsieh relates a compressed life story (his own) and how he sought to discover meaning and happiness. The book is filled with a series of entertaining personal anecdotes. Hsieh wraps things up by discussing the science of happiness and declares that the meaning of life is to discover it.

This is my favorite book of all time and has completely changed my outlook on life. For the better.

  1. Read my prior book review on Delivering Happiness.
  2. Check out the book at Amazon.

2) Brain Rules by John Medina

Earlier this year, Medina was the keynote presenter at a conference I attended. I couldn’t attend Medina’s session, but I knew from the related tweets that the audience found it interesting. Later, I’d bump into other attendees and Medina’s session was mentioned often.

I decided (then) to add “Brain Rules” to my reading list and it didn’t disappoint. Medina is a neuroscientist and the book helps us understand how the brain works. This understanding can help us design more effective meetings, classes, events and more.

  1. Read my prior post on how to use Brain Rules to make your next event more impactful.
  2. Check out the book at Amazon.

3) Reality Is Broken by Jane McGonigal

Coincidentally, Jane McGonigal also provided a keynote presentation at the same conference (as Medina). While I also missed McGonigal’s session, I had already read her book. McGonigal presents research from a number of scientists to explain “why games make us happy” and describes how games can be applied to solve problems at a global scale.

I liked this book so much, in fact, that I organized a digital book club in which we assembled via Google+ Hangouts to discuss portions of the book.

  1. Read my favorite quotes from the book.
  2. Check out the book at Amazon.

4) The Third Wave by Alison Thompson

Thompson’s book makes an impact right from the first page. She describes rollerblading down the street. They were the streets of New York City and she was headed south towards the World Trade Center. And it was September 11, 2001.

Thompson, who has training as a nurse, provided emergency response to victims (on the streets) and witnessed the collapse of the second tower. She volunteered day and night in the days immediately following 9/11 and returned there for weeks afterwards, lending a hand each and every day.

Thompson traveled to Sri Lanka to assist victims of a 2004 tsunami and provided relief efforts to earthquake victims in Haiti. “The Third Wave” is Thompson’s “volunteer story.”

It’s not just touching, it’s inspirational. Reading about Thompson’s selfless acts have inspired me to “do more” for the larger world around me.

  1. Check out the book at Amazon.

5) Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie

This book is the story of TOMS, a shoe company who matches “every pair of TOMS (shoes) purchased with a new pair given to a child in need.” (they now sell more than just shoes). Like “Delivering Happiness,” the book does more than just tell the story of a company’s growth.

Mycoskie provides prescriptive advice on how you (the reader) can start something that matters, yourself. With chapter headings such as “find your story,” “face your fears” and “be resourceful without resources,” Mycoskie made me think about jobs in my future – and how they ought to have a meaning larger than just “maximizing profits.”

  1. Check out the book at Amazon.

Conclusion

I hope you found my recommendations useful. If you end up reading any of these books, return here to leave a comment. I’d love to hear your feelings and reactions to reading them.

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How to Use “Brain Rules” to Make Your Next Event More Impactful

June 7, 2012

Pictured: John Medina at 2012 PCMA Convening Leaders. Photo courtesy of MEETINGSNET.

Introduction

At PCMA Convening Leaders 2012 in San Diego (in January), John Medina gave the opening keynote. Medina is the author of “Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School,” published by Pear Press in 2008.

I was unable to attend the Medina’s keynote, but judging by the chatter afterwards (both online and in the convention center), his talk was well received. I spoke to a few attendees who mentioned direct ties between “Brain Rules” and event planning. When I finally got around to reading the book, I had this “event angle” in mind.

Corporate Events

Attendees of corporate events are pre-disposed to interact with one another. You may know 20-60%+ of the attendees — and, even if you’ve never met someone before, you’re tied by the common bond of being part of the same company.

Monitor and Track your Corporate Learners

Rule #3 is called “Wiring” and can be summarized by the line “Every brain is wired differently.” Because everyone processes information (and learns) at different rates, Medina suggests smaller class sizes in schools. Why? So “the teacher can better keep track of where everybody is.”

Corporate training events should avoid the 3-hour PowerPoint presentations. Medina’s Rule #4 (“Attention”) says that “audiences check out after 10 minutes.” If you have a dry, 3-hour PowerPoint, chances are 2 hours and 50 minutes are wasted. Medina recommends that lectures be broken up into 10 minute segments.

To that I’d add that interactive technology be utilized to create a “presenter’s dashboard.” Throughout the session, short questions would be transmitted to all attendees via handheld devices. The question could be survey oriented (e.g. “Are you following the subject matter?”) or could “test” attendees to validate whether they’re following effectively.

All responses would be anonymous and presenters would be trained to effectively adapt and adjust their session based on the regularly-collected feedback. For instance, this method may identify segments that need to be slowed down, repeated or presented in more detail.

Repetition for Key Themes and Information

Rule #6 covers Long Term Memory and includes this nugget: “the way to make long-term memory more reliable is to incorporate new information gradually and repeat it in timed intervals.” To maximize learning at corporate events, then, consider the following:

  1. Schedule “recap sessions.” Featuring the original presenter, who provides a 5 minute summary of the key points from the original session. The remainder is a Q&A concerning the topic of the session.
  2. Reinforce during meals and drinks. In the common areas where food and drink are served, utilize large display monitors with rotating slide shows – the individual slides reiterate key points covered during the day’s sessions.
  3. Follow-on events. Schedule company-wide webcasts a few days (or a week) after the main event to reinforce key points covered.

In addition to repetition, Rule #4 (“Attention”) notes that “the brain needs a break.” This rule notes that a common flaw of instruction is “relating too much information, with not enough time devoted to connecting the dots.”

So here’s my own rule: each hour is divided into 50 minutes of instruction and 10 minutes of break. During these breaks, snacks are served and attendees are invited to connect the dots on whiteboards.

Gamify Your Corporate Event

Gamification of events has been widely discussed; however, a particular Brain Rule tells me how gamification can make a significant impact. In Rule #5 on Short-Term Memory, Medina notes, “The more elaborately we encode information at the moment of learning, the stronger the memory.”

How do we apply this rule? Create collaboration games in which you divide attendees up into teams. Teams are challenged to solve a problem. The act of solving the problem needs to involve elaborate steps (or considerations). And the end goal of learning is facilitated by the game itself (i.e. solving the challenge).

The result? Learning that results in stronger retention and recall (i.e. it made a larger impact) and a little team building thrown in for good measure.

All Types of Events

Exercise and Naps

You should incorporate exercise and naps into your event. Seems a bit crazy, right? Well, Rule #1 is “Exercise” and Medina notes that our evolutionary bodies are wired to walk 12 miles per day. In addition, he notes that exercise “stimulates the protein that keeps neurons connecting.”

The need to nap is covered in Rule #7 (“Sleep”) and notes that a NASA study “showed that a 26-minute nap improved a pilot’s performance by more than 34 percent.”  While Medina notes that this need to nap is independent of eating a large meal, I recall far too many events during which I nodded off in the session immediately following lunch.

My idea: reserve the hour immediately following lunch for the following options:

  1. A visit to the napping room (perhaps a sponsored napping room at a trade show or conference).
  2. Organized yoga sessions.
  3. Guided walks around the venue (e.g. a historical perspective on the city).
  4. Group discussion walks (i.e. a brisk walk with stops for the group to discuss topics related to the event).
  5. Free time – your chance to catch up on email, return voicemail, etc.

Connect with Attendees Emotionally

In Rule #4 (“Attention”), Medina writes that “emotionally arousing events tend to be better remembered than neutral events.” Reading this reminded me of the famous Maya Angelou quote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

But how do you connect with your attendees’ emotions? Here are a few thoughts:

  1. The music you select and play (and, when it’s played).
  2. The quality of the presenters you feature (how will they make your attendees feel?).
  3. Considering the five senses for all touch points (e.g. sight, sound, touch, taste and even smell/aroma).
  4. The element of surprise (in a good way).
  5. The quality of your after-event events.
  6. The friendliness and helpfulness of your event staff.
  7. Over-deliver on attendees’ expectations.
  8. Be unique and differentiated.
  9. Inspire them to go back to the office and act upon something they learned.
  10. Find and provide things that attendees can’t get anywhere else.

Conclusion

Reading “Brain Rules” convinced me that if we can better understand how the brain works, we can effect change (for the better). To invite John Medina to speak at their annual conference, the event planners at PCMA must have drawn the connection between “Brain Rules” and impactful events. Use the Comments area below to share your thoughts on how events can me more impactful. Thanks!

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .


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