Monday, February 28, 2011

This Is Your Brain On Meetings

Photo of brain blood lines by Suranga Wyesinghe
A link to a Forbes Magazine article about the benefits of meeting face-to-face, compared with teleconferencing, has been zinging around cyberspace this month. As the story points out, as impressive as are advances in virtual meeting technology, there's really nothing like the real thing. "It's tough to put a price on what gets lost when you don't meet in person," the article concludes.

One of the story's primary sources is John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist at the University of Washington School of Medicine. For Forbes, Medina outlined the kinds of sensory information that get lost in cyberspace: eye contact, for one, along with smell and the true sound of people's voices. 

As it happens, we turned to Medina last summer, for our story "More Than a Feeling" which looked at how environment and emotions affect attendees' experience at meetings.  Our purpose was not so much to make a case for meeting face-to-face (our readers get that already) but to use brain science to make the most of meeting opportunities.

A key takeaway was that meeting planners are wise to engage, not just attendees' intellect, but their senses: According to Mediina, people who use multiple senses while learning remember information better, even 20 years later, than people who use only one sense. And they generate 50 percent to 75 percent more creative solutions on problem-solving tests. 

Medina's "Brain Rules" multimedia website is packed with videos and information. Meanwhile, here's a few brainy tips from Medina that are particularly relevant to meeting planners:

The brain likes to chunk things. Meaning it's better to give six 10-minute talks than one hour-long lecture.

Emotional arousal helps the brain learn. Medina adds an "emotional hook" to each 10-minute section of his talks, because the brain remembers the emotional components of an experience better than anything else.

Physical exercise boosts brainpower.  The best business meeting would have everyone walking at about 1.8 miles per hour, Medina says.

Sleep loss cripples thinking. For that reason, Medina's clients who once worked late into the night, now knock off at the end of the day, to make time for exercise and sleep.

Brains need breaks. The most common communication mistake is relating too much information, without spending enough time connecting the dots.

Communication is much more with pictures than with words. A typical PowerPoint presentation has nearly 40 words per slide. "Professionals everywhere need to know about the incredible inefficiency of text-based information and the incredible effects of images."

Thanks to Jeff Hurt, who brought my attention to Medina's work with this blog post.

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