Your Conference Attendees Avoid And Crave Change Simultaneously


It’s quite ironic actually.

Our brains do everything they can to avoid change.

Yet at the same time, our brains increase their engagement and focus when change is involved. Our brains crave change to keep us connected to the situation at hand.

Wired To Be Risk-Averse

Our brains are naturally wired to avoid any type of threat. We prefer familiar and predictable circumstances to the unknown.

Author and cognitive psychologist Dr. Melanie Greenbert says that our brains are like prediction machines. We are hardwired to predict and detect threats and danger.

Sometimes, we perceive change as a threat and immediately react with fear and anxiety. Our brains go into action and create the best response possible: fight, flight or freeze. We feel before we think.

According to Greenbert, just understanding how your brain processes emotion means you can react differently instead of acting on impulse. With knowledge and practice, you can actually rewire your brain to think differently and lessen the fear.

The I Told You So Rush

Our brains love to solve problems and predict outcomes. Greenbert sites research that shows when our brains’ predictions actually come true, our brains’ reward the body with a rush of dopamine.

That’s why we so often like to respond with, “I told you so!” We love that feeling of being right.

How Being Risk-Averse Can Harm You

On the other hand, in an effort to avoid uncertainty, people often make decisions that are not in their best interest. Uncertainty can confuse the brain and cause us to revert to old methods and tried-and-true strategies.

Authors and researchers Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky call our familiar, automated brain strategies heuristics. This is when we resort to choices that actually overly simplify the new situation. Or we respond by defaulting to an old familiar approach that is out of context.

To paraphrase Kahneman and Tversky, conference hosts and organizers faced with uncertainty are often slow to adapt. They stubbornly resist facing the fact that the past successful strategies no longer work in the face of innovation and new competitions. They avoid changing the conference attendee experience.

Conference Brains On Automation

Automation is when the brain has done something so many times, it no longer has to think about what to do. It’s like driving home from the office every day. Sometimes we pull in our driveways and don’t recall how we got there. (That’s not good for you or other drivers!)

We create brain automation in conferences when every education session has the same room set and same education method—the lecture. The brain says, “I’ve been here before. You don’t have to think. Let’s think about something else or ignore it all together.”

Your conference traditions could actually be a barrier to your attendees’ learning.

A Little Discomfort Alerts The Brain

Here’s the ironic twist. While your brain is inclined to avoid change, when it does face change, it becomes highly engaged.

Add just a little change and the brain goes on alert. Our five senses become highly attuned to what’s happening around us. And that’s what we want for our attendees.

Our brains actually crave change and variety. Create a little cognitive dissonance with change, but not so much that the brain gets emotionally hijacked with fear, and the brain gets juiced. It’s then when we become more engaged and open to learning.

That’s exactly what we need in our conference education sessions—change that causes us to engage in something new. It’s time to embrace change!

Which do you prefer, change or tradition and why? How can we introduce conference changes to attendees so they don’t become emotionally hijacked?

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