Improving Conference Experiences With The Ground Breaking Discovery Of Brain-In-The-Heart

Heart Of The Storm

We’ve all heard people say:

  • “Go with your gut.”
  • “Just follow your heart.”
  • “Trust your instinct.”

These colloquial sayings feel more like fuzzy-thinking, sensitive touchy-freely speeches or lyrical metaphors. It’s not normally something that you expect experts to say at a conference. Nor is it something we strive to create in conference experiences.

But should it be?

The Brain-In-The-Heart Discovery

In the recent past, researchers introduced the concept of a functional “heart brain.” Neurocardiologists and researchers Lacey and Lacey; Rein and Atkison; McCraty and Armour are some scientists that have identified and studied the brain-in-heart.

Their work shows that that heart has its own complex intrinsic nervous system. It is so sophisticated with its own neurons, neurotransmitters, proteins and support cells that it is often called the “little brain” or “heart brain.”

Brain Is The Master Or Heart Is The Master?

So which organ really controls our body?

Is the brain the master? Controlling everything we do.

Or is the heart the master?

Or is it somewhere in between?

We’ve known for a long time that changes in emotions cause predictable changes in heart rate, blood pressure, respiration and digestion. When we experience an emotional hijack, we revert to fight, flight or freeze. This all starts in the brain.

We now know that our heart actually communicates with the brain to significantly influence how we perceive and react to the world says Professor Mohamed Omar Salem, Royal College.

The brain-in-the-heart can act independently of the cranial brain. It can learn and, remember. It can even feel and sense says Salem.

Information from the brain-in-heart–feelings, perceptions, impressions, sensations—are sent to our cranial brain through neural pathways. They cascade up to important higher-order thinking centers in our brain. There they influence our perceptions, decision making and cognitive processes says Amour.

So how does the “little brain” or brain-in-the-heart concept affect conferences?

Time For Conference Organizers To Rethink

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in conferences.

They have become academically sterile. They are entirely too cerebral, void of any emotional connections and passion. It’s about engaging logic, reasoning and the brain.

The content seems empty. It lacks any poignant, moving and affective impact. We’ve tried to departmentalize intelligent thought and emotions separately.

Or it goes the other extreme where the content is temporary, emotional cotton-candy fluff. Emotionally connecting for a few minutes and then lacking any depth or intelligence.

How do conference attendees interpret these experiences?

They feel detached, cold and unaffected. They are in a state of discord. It feels inconsistent.

And our attendees need to feel emotionally held, socially connected and liked before they can learn, retain and change.

Yet conference organizers continue to throw big money at receptions and parties in an attempt to connect with people’s emotions. We have moved emotions to parties. Education lacks fun and emotional connections. We’ve again departmentalized our conference experience.

Leveraging Heart Coherence

Conference organizers need to rethink general sessions, plenaries, concurrents, breakouts and all manners of education sessions.

We’ve all been to conferences where the sessions fell flat. The experience lacked connecting. Our bodies were in a state of disharmony because it triggered a disconnect in our emotions, feelings and thinking.

We need to focus on designing sessions that align with the research about “heart intelligence” and “heart coherence.” (Hat tips to author Daniel Mauro, M.Cog.Sci, Founder and Editor High Performance Brain Magazine for his continued research and application of brain-in-heart and heart coherence.)

We’ve got to create sessions that activate heart coherence—an optimal state that reflects alignment between our heart, mind, body and emotions. We have to activate heartfelt emotions as often as possible. It’s a more healthy experience for our body, heart and mind when we do so.

In short, we must look at the big picture conference experience and outcomes first. Then we can work on details. Not the other way around!

We have to focus on designing a more holistic conference experience for our attendees. When we create experiences that leverage heart coherence, we engage relaxed, alert and happy attendees. Then their cognitive, emotional and physiological systems function as a whole.

Why have conference education sessions become so void of emotions and passion? What do we need to do to balance content and emotions in conference sessions?

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1 comment
  1. Hello Jeff!

    A speaker’s agency I work with sent me your article over the weekend with a long list of exclamation marks as her only comment. 🙂

    As I agree with everything you wrote, I’m writing to quickly introduce myself.

    I’m the author of “Lead From The Heart: Transformational Leadership For The 21st Century.” In my book, I make the argument that traditional workplace leadership is failing to fully engage people — essentially because it lacks heart. Mentored by HeartMath’s Dr. Rollin McCraty and (Co-founder) Bruce Cryer, in addition to cardiologist, Dr. Mimi Guarneri, I make a lot of the same points you do. The big one is that: Feelings and emotions drive human behavior, what we care most about and devote ourselves to in our life. Consequently, leadership must now devote itself to the practices known to create the most positive feelings in people.

    My book is now being taught in two major US universities even though the thesis is still not widely embraced in business. But as you know and point out, appealing to the minds — and not also the hearts — in people is failed from the start. The day is coming when business will widely embrace these ideas simply because they represent the truth.

    I’m a speaker who fully understands and supports the points you make here. I also write frequently for Fast Company Magazine (everything I write relates to the same thesis).

    Really just wanted you to know that I’m out here — and a big supporter of what you wrote. Would love to chat with you if you are ever interested.


    Mark C. Crowley

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