We are born with the capacity for fear and pleasure.
Unfortunately, we are not born with the knowledge of what to fear. Or what gives pleasure. We learn those things.
Our Brain’s Four Wants At A Conference
Our brains survive most conference experiences. Regardless how good or how bad they are.
It is rare to hear of someone dying from a bad conference experience. Although many of us have zombie-like near brain-death experiences because some of them are so boring.
Author James E. Zull says that our brains survive by understanding their environment, controlling their own actions, avoiding perceived risks and threats, and searching for pleasure.
To put it succinctly, to survive our brains use and want
- Cognition – the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.
- Control – our need for control is great and biological!
- Fear – the avoidance of perceived risk and threats. The word perceived is critical here and our perceived perils may be irrational to others.
If we want our attendees to learn, we must consider these four brain wants.
The Complexity Of Connectedness Of These Four Brain Needs
These four things are not independent of each other.
Zull identifies it like this (paraphrased):
We hope that understanding something will give us control over it. But fear may block understanding. Or we can lose control by seeking to satisfy our pleasure brain. Or we can give up pleasure to gain control or accept fear and suffering to keep it.
As you can see the entangled mess of cognition, control, fear and pleasure are endless and painfully obvious.
To make it even more complicated, our own stubborn insistence of control, such as the strong belief that I only learn this way, means that we just keep on deciding things…right or wrong!
Four Brains Tenets Conferences Must Embrace
Our brain takes itself very seriously, says Zull.
No matter how we act, whatever our attitudes, whatever we believe, it all comes from a brain that got that way in the desperate struggle to survive.
Here are four brain tenets that conference organizers and speakers must employ if we want to encourage attendee learning.
1. Help the attendee as learner feel in control!
No outside powers can force our brains to learn. It will decide on its own. This is probably the best tip that good speakers have. Let the audience feel as if they are in control of the session.
2. Help the attendee (learner) see how the topic matters in their life.
If attendees believe the subject matter is important to their lives, they will learn it. We have to help our attendees see. We have to help them see its importance and benefit. And this does not happen just because we say “It matters.” The attendee must see it and believe it!
3. To help people learn, we must expect to encounter emotion.
The fear and pleasure zones of our brains are working all the time. Even in learning! They actually run our lives. While we may not consciously respond directly to survival, we do respond to fear and pleasure. Our conference education must create safe places full of laughter and pleasure in order for people to learn.
4. To help people learn, we must take their emotions seriously.
We cannot dismiss the learner’s emotions. Even if they seem trivial or unjustified. If someone is offended by what a speaker says, we cannot blame the listener. Their emotions trump their logic. We feel before we think. That’s why we have to figure out how to approach controversial topics with the right adult language that doesn’t set off an emotional hijack.
Which of these four tenets do you need to work on the most with your conference? How can we approach controversial topics in a way that people can engage in adult dialogue without an emotional hijack?