A great meeting or congress gives its participants energy – the energy to stay focused and open-minded during the whole conference, the energy to connect to the other participants and the energy to go back to work and implement all of the new insights. Unfortunately the opposite always happens: meetings drain our energy and we lose our ability to learn, think and be creative. We often end up carried away from the meeting in body bags, demotivated and unable to use the insights we never got.
The reason for this is that most meeting planners don’t really understand how humans learn. They treat participants like machines, which we are obviously not. Machines are most effective if they work all the time, if they work fast and if they have many functions turned on at the same time. We overload participants with speakers and information, with no time for breaks and reflection. We expect them to have many different focuses at the same time; while they listen to the speaker, they are supposed to tweet and navigate the latest meeting app on their iPad. But we’ve got it all wrong – humans work differently to machines. Machines work steady, at the same speed, all the time, whereas humans work best in waves – peak, relax, peak, relax. Research shows that humans have difficulties focusing on complicated new knowledge for more than four hours a day and no more than 90 minutes at a time, after which we need to recharge our energy. You have probably heard about violin players and Olympic athletes that have to practice for 10,000 hours to reach world class, but what you seldom hear is that those champions seldom train hard more than 4 hours a day and that they all are really good at taking breaks and doing something else.
There are basically four types of energy that can help us stay focused, motivated and creative during a meeting:
- Physical energy: sleep, food, movement and breaks.
- Social energy: Positive relations to other participants.
- Mental energy: Meaningful and interesting tasks and ways of working.
- Emotional energy: If we experience at least 3 times more positive emotions than negative, we are happy and high performing.
If we want the participants to stay energised during the whole meeting, we have to think in waves. After each peak performance (max every 90 minutes) you should shift frequency and give the participants time to recharge from one of the four energy sources. You could try:
Physical energy: Activate the participants physically, let them stand up, take a walk or make a funny energiser. Energisers are 2-5 minutes of non competitive physical games that make the participants move, interact and laugh.
Social energy: Facilitate positive interactions between the participants, like non-competitive games and networking activities.
Mental energy: Give the participants a chance to work with something that comes purely from inner motivation, for example let them discuss a work challenge that occupies their thoughts at the time.
Emotional energy: Use humour, music, beautiful artistic experiences, great food, beautiful nature, acknowledge the participants and give them a chance to focus on their successes.
Physical movement is one of the quickest ways to create a high energy level. In 2010 I facilitated energisers for 600 participants at the 5th European Conference on Positive Psychology in Copenhagen. These respectable scientists loved it!
The energy level immediately rockets if you engage the participants. During the Mind Event for meeting planners in Copenhagen 2014, we changed a site inspection at Marriot Hotel to a Murder Mystery that the participants should solve. It’s me in the middle, dressed like detective Karl Moerk.
Humans always strive towards positive relations to other humans. Therefore I always try to help the participants connect. Here are participants at a conference for a big medical company, playing network bingo.