Forget about turning down the lights to set the mood for your opening general session.
Why? It’s the perfect way to disengage and dial back your attendees’ emotions.
If you want to emotionally connect and increase your audience’s emotional intensity, a University of Toronto study says you need to turn lights up bright!
Bright Lights Arouse Intense Emotions
Conventional wisdom says that sunny days can brighten our moods. While cloudy, rainy days can bring us down.
However, this new evidence shows that bright lights intensify our emotions, whether cheerful or glum. Dimming the lights dampens those moods.
If you want to stir the emotions of your audience, you need to turn the lights up brightly. Dimming the lights diminishes their mood.
Researchers conducted six studies with different light conditions. What they found is that lighting actually affects our decision-making process and our emotions.
Alison Jing Xu, assistant professor of management at UTSC and one of the lead researchers says the effect bright light has on our emotional system may be the result of it being perceived as heat. Our perception of heat can trigger our emotions.
“Bright light intensifies the initial emotional reaction we have to different kinds of stimulus including products and people,” she says.
Implications For Conferences
If your goal is to engage the emotions of your attendees so they retain the information from a session, turn up the lights to increase more emotional intensity.
Remember, when you turn down the lights in a general session, you’re also sending a subconscious message to the audience that they are there to be entertained.
“How so?” you might ask. Your brain is already trained by going to concerts, movie theaters, opera houses and the arts that when you turn the overhead lights down, it means it’s time to stop thinking, check out and be entertained.
So, if you’re planning a conference session that engages the emotions, it makes sense to turn up the lights as brightly as possible.
If your goal is to engage your audience in some rational, decision-making, you may want to reduce their emotional state. So, dim the lights.
If you want a more optimistic audience as you share about the state of the industry, turn up the bright lights. Assuming your audience is already content. Just be prepared that if you’re sharing negative information, bright lights can actually make your downbeat report feel more depressing than it is!
What other implications do bright or dim lights have for conference attendees? Why do most conference organizers and production teams turn the lights down in general sessions?