Neural connections can help with the challenges of meetings in the not-so-distant future.
EVER WISHED YOU COULD READ THE MINDS OF YOUR CLIENTS OR YOUR DELEGATES? In the future that could be a distinct possibility—and even now, we may well know enough to get those all-important insights into what they are thinking.
Back in the Middle Ages when I did my first lecture, I was struck by the puzzled expression of a student at the back—her furrowed brow made me stumble over my lecture notes. She was clearly displeased with the content...puzzled? Annoyed? I could not tell. At the end, I asked her what she had found so upsetting? She looked even more puzzled.
“I forgot my glasses” she explained, “I was just trying to follow the slides.”
My interpretation of an irate student at the back was wrong. What I had was a near-sighted student who should have been sitting at the front. As a mere single human confronted by a sea of faces, I was incapable of processing the expressions before me, and in particular, hers.
Flash forward to now and barely a day seems to pass without a news item about a new technology or insight into how we can improve our understanding of each other. We seem to be obsessed, and part of that obsession is fueled by developments in brain imaging that are revealing more about how our minds work. Neuroscientists involved in the future of meetings study had both positive and negative feelings about the rafts of revelations.
Doubtless, the new insights provide solutions to health professionals dealing with disabilities and the growing number of people with chronic conditions like Alzheimer’s, but some of the insights are leading to generalized assumptions that are being rapidly applied. The warning from one of our neuroscientist experts is stark—the word neuro might be used more often in the future as a prefix to all sorts of activities and “ologies”… but there is a lot of snake oil out there.
Whatever our views on the dangers of trying before testing may be, there are promising research and techniques out there that are worthy of attention, because the race toward mind reading is on, whether we like it or not. So for meeting planners in the future, intelligent technologies may help read emotional expressions through cameras designed to analyze the meaning of the faces we pull. Smart buildings could measure our physical reactions and needs through a wristband, and planners could well be reaching beyond our neural firewalls to read our brainwaves with EEG headsets—there is a clear trajectory from outside perceptions to inner thoughts. The journey is leading to an increased awareness of emerging neuro disciplines.
Neuro-economics: an interdisciplinary and emerging research field that examines human decision-making—a personal favorite being an interesting discovery from 2011 that women make better decisions than men in the finance markets at least (of course only one piece of research, but it seems fair to mention it).
Neuro-gastroenterology: research into the connections between the intestines and the brain; think of it as the origins of gut instinct.
Neuro-technology: technology designed to provide insights and make improvements on brain functions. One of our experts, Michael Chorost, shares fascinating insights into this area in his blog www.michaelchorost.com/blog/.
Neuro-marketing: a new field of research that identifies how our brains respond to marketing stimuli—there are many fascinating pieces on this area.
The focus is clear: Success in business is more reliant than ever on what our minds can produce and how our minds work. The result in the future of meetings is likely to be more data at our fingertips. The challenge for meeting planners will be enhancing skills to critically evaluate the data and, most importantly, responding to the feedback in real-time.
But before you stop reading, because all this neural Wi-Fi seems too sci-fi, here is the thing: this future is already here. We already receive data and, increasingly, our clients and delegates express how they feel through their social networks or other technology interfaces. The difference is they tap keyboards rather than pull faces or wriggle wrists. Because they proactively tell us how they feel, they expect us to respond. The more positive returns they get for sharing their thoughts, the more they share and the more we learn.
As presenters and as planners, we rely on feedback and increasingly we look to our delegates to drive and direct content. Conference innovators read delegates’ minds before they arrive—they get feedforward, or pre-feedback, in advance of meetings about topics of interest, they deliver content in advance of sessions so delegates can engage and place the content in their own contexts live.
Whilst the technological advances are exciting to watch, we can already get inside the heads of our delegates without them. Technology should enhance our understanding of how people feel in the future, but we will only be prepared for that if we start focusing more on those feelings right now.
As a final thought, while this article focuses on feedback at the actual events we manage, perhaps we should be looking at what happens afterward. While measuring our brain responses at a meeting is important, it is how delegates put thoughts into action after the meeting that could really count for industry longer term. One+
future of meetings,
One+ October 2012,