Your Conference Planning Really Is Brain Surgery

Binford 2000 brain surgery.

You’ve heard the saying, “Come on, this is not brain surgery.”

It means that something is really simple to do. We use it to encourage people to stop whining and do the obvious.

Planning the right conference programming for the right target audience is profoundly simple. If you have a vision and focus. And it can lead to major attendee brain changes, almost like brain surgery.

Why The Right Programming Leads To Brain Surgery…Sort Of

When a conference’s programming actually clicks with an audience, it aligns with how our brains normally function.

Our brains are hardwired to operate a specific way. Just like our computers, our brains have an encoded operating system. Ignore the operating instructions and our brains flounder.

As a conference organizer, if you know how your attendees’ brains naturally operate, you can create the right programming conditions to help them get positive results. And when your attendees are getting positive results, your conference thrives and gets positive results. And it leads to changes in attendees’ brains!

Three Conference Brain Functions You Need To Foster

So what are some of the brain processes that a conference programming should enable?

Here are three higher-level brain functions author, coach and psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud identifies that must be engaged to achieve a purposeful conference attendee experience.

1. Attention

Duh! We all know that we need to capture our attendees’ attention.

Attention is the key that unlocks higher-order brain circuitry says Cloud. It is the ability to focus on relevant information and block out what is not relevant.

When we give our attention to something, our brains form the internal wiring to make it possible to learn something new, take the right action and meet our needs.

But getting an audience’s attention is not enough! This is where most conferences fail. The programming holds an audience’s attention but stops there.

Attention can only thrive when it recruits its siblings: inhibition and working memory, says Cloud.

2. Inhibition

Inhibition is the brain’s ability to restrain or restrict actions or information that could be distracting, irrelevant or possibly destructive.

If a conference experience offers too many topics, it can cause the attendee’s brain to short circuit. Too many options become overwhelming. It short fuses the brain.

Planning the right conference programming isn’t as simple as a “to-do” list or check list of topics to offer to every possible attendee. The conference organizer must focus on a target audience and inhibit other possible types of attendees. Then the programming needs to ensure topics will attract target attendees.

The organizers need to inhibit a smorgasbord of topics, something for everyone, and focus topics on what is important and drives results.

Instead, the conference content should function as a GPS, helping target attendees learn information to lead to their future success.

3. Working Memory

Conferences need to provide programming that helps attendees retain and access relevant information that they’ve heard and learned. Relevancy is the key!

If attendees’ can’t retain, recall and remember, they can’t apply. If they can’t access the information in their working memory, they can’t reason, make decisions and take future actions.

The conference content must fit within each attendee’s world of context. The information must be current, not a year old. The information must be presented and received in a way that makes recall easy.

This means that attendees cannot be lectured at for eight hours a day and expect to retain, access and recall what they’ve heard. We have to focus on conference programming that fosters learning design and thus working memory.

How do you as a conference professional make sure that you are attending to topics that are most important to your target audience? How do you create a current river of information, initiatives and steps to keep the focus on what is important moving forward?

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  1. Joan Eisenstodt says:

    How strange that you published this now, Jeff. I was thinking of reviving something I did years ago and then stopped: I used to give training prizes that were imprinted with the saying “…more than brain surgery”. After a number of surgeries, albeit not brain, and after hearing one too many times how what we did as meeting professionals wasn’t brain surgery, I wanted those who planned and executed meetings to understand the importance of their roles.

    My experience in an operating room was that it was, first, a team of people who were setting up and prepping me and materials for the surgery. The surgeon came in to a prepped room ready to go .. or so I hoped! That surgeon had a team of people to help her or him do his best work … unlike most meeting professionals who work alone from their side of the work and have a team from a facility to help. But the prepping is all about one person who is likely to have far more on her or his plate. More, that person is responsible for the life and death of those attending .. far many more than the one surgery at a time for a brain surgeon.

    So if we take all that you said about the brains of others and add to it the rest of the prep, we have .. brain surgery’s equivalent or more.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and adding to the discussion. I love your analogy of the operating room and the prep needed. Thanks for adding that!

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