Pictured: John Medina at 2012 PCMA Convening Leaders. Photo courtesy of MEETINGSNET.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- A visit to the napping room (perhaps a sponsored napping room at a trade show or conference).
- Organized yoga sessions.
- Guided walks around the venue (e.g. a historical perspective on the city).
- Group discussion walks (i.e. a brisk walk with stops for the group to discuss topics related to the event).
- 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:
- The music you select and play (and, when it’s played).
- The quality of the presenters you feature (how will they make your attendees feel?).
- Considering the five senses for all touch points (e.g. sight, sound, touch, taste and even smell/aroma).
- The element of surprise (in a good way).
- The quality of your after-event events.
- The friendliness and helpfulness of your event staff.
- Over-deliver on attendees’ expectations.
- Be unique and differentiated.
- Inspire them to go back to the office and act upon something they learned.
- Find and provide things that attendees can’t get anywhere else.
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!
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