Imagine going to a party where you meet a bunch of new people.
Which faces will you remember? Which names will you recall?
You’ll probably remember the woman who made you laugh. The man who accidentally spilled his drink on you. The man who made your face turn red from embarrassment. And the women who disagreed with your political views.
Why? Because each of these people stirred your emotions.
Emotion and memory are closely related. The part of your brain in charge of emotions is the limbic system. It’s also in charge of transferring information into memory.
The Traffic Cop For Learning: Your Hippocampus
Learning means easily retrieving information from memories.
The hippocampus is the part of your brain’s limbic system that converts information into memory. It’s the brain’s traffic cop that can stop or allow learning to occur.
Without the hippocampus, you could not live in the present because you would be stuck in the past of old memories. It would be like an ongoing loop of the movie Groundhog Day. It’s also the first part of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s Disease.
Ultimately, all information must go through the hippocampus in order to be retained and to create a memory.
Get Ready, Turn Your Key, Start Your Hippocampus
Neuroscientists have discovered that activating the hippocampus plays a significant role in whether people recall information. The higher the degree of activation, the more probability the information was moved from short-term memory to long-term memory. And the higher the recall of learning.
Unfortunately, your hippocampus is very fickle.
It’s like a two-year old demanding your full attention. It needs undivided attention to encode the experience and transferform the information into learning. The hippocampus does not engage when attention is divided.
Your Brain Needs Two Drugs To Pay Attention
To pay close attention to something, your brain needs the right amount of two neurochemicals: dopamine and norepinephrine.
Dopamine is released when we have a feeling of relevance, reward or the experience seems unique. It is released when we are curious, open to new experiences, working towards a goal and wanting to gain something.
To increase dopamine levels, the content needs to be relevant. The learner needs to see the value in the information and its potential reward. Varying the learning techniques provides additional novelty that can raise dopamine as well. Group discussions, peer sharing and reflection exercises help increase dopamine by varying the learning technique. It also activates the social brain.
Norepinephrine affects your alertness, arousal and focus. It is released in great quantities when we feel threatened or fear. If the brain releases too much norepinephrine, the body defaults into the fight or flight mode and can’t learn.
It is also released when we are challenged or competitive. In contrast, if the topic at hand is not challenging enough, less norepinephrine gets released and we lose focus.
Ultimately, without the right amount of dopamine and norepinephrine, the hippocampus will not fire sufficiently for memory encoding to occur. It’s a delicate dance than can go awry easily.
A Is For Attention: Practical Steps For Your Event To Ignite The Hippocampus
So what does all this brain mumbo-jumbo hippocampus jargon really mean? How does it affect your event?
If memory-making and learning are two of your event’s goals, then follow these steps to gain attention:
- Ensure the content is relevant, solving the listener’s problems.
- Decrease the amount of content covered because the brain’s ability to absorb new ideas is similar to our capacity to absorb food. There are physical limits to the digestion of both.
- Make information easy to digest through chunking of content in 10 minute segments.
- Use visuals and stories to make the information interesting and engaging.
- Vary learning techniques to create uniqueness and novelty.
- Make information and learning a greater social experience. Peer storytelling and story sharing one on one or in small groups is best. The hippocampus pays the most attention to issues shared by our peers (note: panels fail in this area because the majority of the audience is required to listen, not share with each other.)
For more information:
Using AGES To Design Brain Friendly Conferences
Learning That Lasts Through The AGES, white paper by Neuroscientists Dr. Lila Davachi, Dr. Tobias Keifer and Dr. David Rock
Should meeting professionals focus on creating better customer experiences or only be concerned with the logistics of an event? Why is the meetings industry slow to adopt research from the scientific community about how the brain learns and creates memories?
Rosa Garriga says
what an interesting post!
As for your question, IMO both are equally important, the environment has to be right one in order for the learning to happen. And without learning, the event is waste of time…
Now, I know meeting planners who are more inclined to focus on just one side, and others who want to do both. Some say the skills required are different, others that you should do both. I don’t know the right answer, if there’s any?
Btw, John Medina’s Brain rules has gathered lots of research on how we learn, a must read!
Jeff Hurt says
I often say that meeting planners are really good at building a glass. Unfortunately, they don’t usually focus on what’s going into that glass. They expect if the right glass is there, then the right substance will be in the glass. We’ve gotten very good at building the glass. Now it’s time to start focusing on the substance in the glass.
Thanks for reading and commenting. And yes, I’ve read both of Medina’s books as well as seen him speak several times. Good stuff too.