As if paying attention during our daily routine is not difficult enough, we thrust people into a condensed conference experience and demand they give us their undivided attention. We ask them to focus wholeheartedly to the topics and networking until they leave.
Here are some helpful tips when planning your conference to keep you attendees attention.
1. Brain Drain
Attention, learning and retaining memory drain the glucose levels of our brains. Our glucose drops considerably based on the task we are doing. Attendees that show up to a conference session with low blood sugar are likely to be tired, listless and inattentive. And an increasing number have diabetes which impairs the speed of cognitive performance.
Tip: Make sure you are providing the right foods for thought during breaks and meals.
2. Our Brain’s Surge Protectors
The physical process for learning begins within 15 minutes of exposure to new information. The biological process of building mental connections gets stronger within an hour and takes up to six hours to completely form. If the synapse strengthening process is disturbed, the memory is lost. In addition to that, our learning improves when there are adequate spacing and rest intervals instead of ongoing exposure to new material.
Tip: Presenting more content per minute guarantees that little will be learned or retained. Ask presenters to cut content and allow for more meaning-making.
3. Blocking Flow
During a conference, either you can have your attendees’ attention or they can be making meaning of the information. Unfortunately, both cannot occur at the same time. And for learning to occur, they must have time to make meaning.
Meaning is generated internally. It takes intentional effort and requires time. External input (offering more information) conflicts with the processing of prior information and meaning-making. It blocks the natural brain’s flow of learning.
Tip: Ask presenters to allow time during the presentation for participants to discuss, think about and reflect on their main points.
4. Safety First
Conference attendees pay attention to the content only when it is “safe” to do so. To your participants, outside influences such as calling on individuals unexpectedly to answer a question is like a potential predator. In risky environments, learners cannot focus on processing information.
Tip: Teach presenters to ask for volunteers to respond to questions. Create a safe environment where attendees feel calm and divergent views are welcomed.
5. Get Up
One of the brain’s primary fuels for attention is amines. Amines are the brain’s uppers. Amine levels increase and decrease naturally during the day. Low amine levels lead to inattention and fatigue.
Tip: Help presenters learn to read their attendees’ body language so they know when the amine level has dropped. They should look for bored stares, people having trouble keeping their eyes open, yawns, etc. To increase amine levels, presenters should give attendees a break and invite them to get up and walk around, go to the restroom, etc. Amine levels increase with movement.
6. Recycle This
For long-term memory to form, the brain needs to recycle the proteins within neurons. To recycle the proteins, the brain must have time to incubate or settle after receiving new information. This means learning improves with shorter times devoted to listening to content and more rest time (giving the brain a break from listening).
Tip: Encourage presenters to present 10-20 minutes of content and then give the audience time to reflect, think or discuss.
Conference organizers need to make some hard choices about what to offer. Adding more content to a conference schedule does not increase learning. Conference organizers should focus on quality content and brain friendly experiences instead of adding more, more, more.
What are some tips that you’ve used or experienced that help eliminate these barriers?