Five Energy Hungry Brain Functions We Use At Conferences

This Mess We're In

Have you ever started your day by trying to read emails while listening to your voice mails?

If you’re like me you have. And it just doesn’t work.

At the slightest whim, you get distracted and before you know it, you’ve deleted an important voice mail. Or you’ve overlooked an urgent email.

While the brain is extremely powerful, it has severe limitations. It doesn’t take much to turn the brain of a top-of-their-class college graduate into a whimpering kid when you try to force it to do two things at once.

Our brain’s have biological limits that underlie mental performance success or failure!

Five Thinking Brain Functions

Five brain functions make up the majority of your conscious thought at your conference: understanding, decision-making, recall, memorizing and inhibition.

These functions are recombined to communicate, plan, problem-solve and perform other mental tasks. They all use the pre-frontal cortex of your brain intensively and require considerably more metabolic resources than you realize. If you fully understood the limitations of your and your attendees’ brains and the amount of resources–glucose and oxygen–each task requires, you would plan conference schedules differently.

1. Understanding

To understand a new concept, your brain must focus on a thought and hold it there long enough to connect it to existing ideas, knowledge or experiences. Hopefully, you are doing this right now as you read this blog post. When given the opportunity, your attendees do this during education sessions as they hear information that they want to apply.

2. Decision-making

To make a decision, you hold two thoughts in your brain at the same time and compare them based on value judgments. You often do this when you read an email and decide how to respond. At conferences, when speakers ask attendees to think about how to apply what they’ve heard, they are using decision-making skills.

3. Recall

To recall information, or bring a memory of the past back to mind, you give that memory your primary attention. The older the memory, the more time and attention it may take to find it as it may be buried behind newer memories. Your brain can become easily distracted during this process and sometimes it just gives up because it has difficulty recalling the memories.

4. Memorize

To memorize information, you need to get information out of your working memory and into your long term memory. This requires a considerable amount of effort, time, energy and enzyme-catalyst resources that help us grow and respond to our environments.

NOTE: A better approach to memorizing information is to get attendees to interact with that content than just memorize it. That leads to better recall of the information.

5. Inhibition

Sometimes, we have to work at keeping our brain from focusing on other things. The process of keeping distractions at bay and out of our mind requires a lot of effort. It is also central to our normal functions in life.

Brain-Smart Approaches

Conscious mental activities use up significant metabolic resources, the fuel in your blood, more than automatic activities such as keeping your heart beating and your lungs breathing. It turns out that thinking is hard work that can tire your body quickly as well as eat up considerable resources.

Creating conference schedules crammed full of constant meetings, lectures and information dumps for several days in a row automatically sets the brain up to fail. Attendees must be given adequate breaks and down time as well as healthy food that replenishes their metabolic resources. Trying to keep a constant focus on mental energy hungry tasks for six to eight hours doesn’t work. The brain just shuts down. This explains why often on the third day of a conference, your attendees are exhausted.

As conference organizers, we have got to start respecting the limitations of our attendees’ brains. We have to give more intention to how we design our schedules allowing for considerable time for our attendees to rest and refuel. Then they can bring their A-game each day.

Hat Tips to Dr. David Rock and his book, Your Brain At Work which gives valuable insight to how our brain works.

How do you feel when you try to cram too much information from a conference into your schedule? What type of things should we put in our conference schedules that are brain-smart approaches?

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