Our senses are the cornerstone of our experiences; they are vivid, rich and immediate. In recent years, neuroscience and cognitive-psychology research have uncovered the remarkable power of our senses. Through harnessing the latest scientific understanding of how they work, planners can create far more effective and engaging events.
By appealing to the full range of attendees' feelings and senses, planners can greatly increase the chances of running a memorable event, one whose goals are well met and lessons well learned. By providing your participants with fully immersive experiences, incorporating sight, sound, smell, taste and touch, the messages conveyed to them at conferences, meetings, trade shows and so on become much more vivid.
This has been demonstrated by, among others, Charles Spence, professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University, whose research shows that all of the physiological and behavioral responses that result from a surprising or incongruous sensory experience help to increase memorability. "A sensory incongruity becomes a talking point, a focus on an idea through the senses," he says. "You are far more likely to remember something having discussed it at the time with someone else."
Intuitively, it is difficult to argue with this conclusion. Our five senses act as biological learning portals, with all information and stimuli entering our brains through these doors. Therefore the more of the brain that's activated, the more easily learning occurs and the more likely we are to retain what we learned. Human brains crave unique multisensory experiences.
Following are tips to make sure that your event can appeal to all of the five senses:
• Add color to create the right mood and match the meeting-room color scheme with your meeting's objectives. According to the findings of a University of British Columbia study, color schemes really do make a difference to participants' performance: People in a room painted red perform much better at skills that require accuracy and attention to detail than people in a blue room. And those in a blue room outperform the red group on creative tasks requiring imagination. Try a venue that allows you to use color lighting to create the mood that best matches your meeting's goals.
• Nothing gets a team to bond more effectively than singing or playing music together, and immersing attendees in music-making also is a powerful tool for fostering engagement and boosting energy. In London, we are lucky to have the most legendary recording complex in the world, Abbey Road Studios, home to countless landmark recordings from artists from the Beatles to Adele, where attendees can be immersed in sound and make a recording of their very own song.
• Consider adding scent to your conference sessions. Smell is the only sense that actually has a direct connection to our body's limbic system, the area of the brain that processes emotions. Studies show that lemon scents increase concentration, while lavender and orange scents help to reduce anxiety. At London's May Fair hotel, for example, guests are surrounded by a specially created signature fragrance of freshly cut grass mingled with lemongrass incense sticks, designed to gives guests a feeling of well being.
• Another effective way to boost sensory experiences is by switching off one of your participants' dominant senses. Try eating in the dark to heighten attendee focus on a food's flavors and textures at specialist restaurants such as San Francisco's Opaque or London's Dans Le Noir.
• Finally, don't forget to keep attendees' hands busy. Small actions like doodling or coloring can help people stay alert during a long day of sessions.
Chris FJ Lynn is vice president, sales and marketing, North America and emerging markets, at London & Partners.