Mindful Event Design – Andrea M. Sullivan, M.A. and Janet Sperstad, CMP
Written by Anne Zambrano | Manager, Communications and Creative Services
Good event design equates to constructing effective environments that produce measurable outcomes. Great event design is more mindful of the entire cognitive experience. Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Janet Sperstad, CMP co-author of Mindful Event Design and Program Director of Madison College’s Meeting and Event Management degree program, about just that. She’ll also be sharing her genius at M&IW’s Campus Week and Client Summit in September.
A few of the insightful points she made were…
The New Event Design Conversation
A new and innovative perspective on event design is being mindful of the psychology and physiology of how humans react to certain environments that planners create when designing programs and sessions. By bringing forth a conversation to help people look at the logistics as a means to construct and create experiences and how those experiences have a physiological impact on participants, planners will start to become more mindful of certain event design aspects. Planners are very concerned, as they should be, with measurable outcomes and constructing a good environment. That being said, what isn’t being talked about is the event design as it relates to the psychology and physiology of bringing people together from the neurological and cognitive science standpoint.
By not being mindful, planners may be inadvertently creating psychological minefields. Big room, lots of people, loud music, bright lights. Human brains have evolved to first and foremost keeps us safe and such strong stimuli triggers warnings in our brains due to the sensory overload. Another example may be having too dark of a room where a participant either can’t find their colleagues or they might be nervous to see people they are not prepared to see. Ultimately, planners are potentially putting people in a state of threat and danger.
These event design aspects are what lead people to sit at the back of a room or toward the aisle for an easy escape. It all boils down to the subconscious’ reaction to the environment that has been created.
How Can Planners Be More Mindful
One of the simplest things a planner can do to be more mindful is simply taking a look at the environment they have created and ask themselves; how am I helping the participants get the best experience and am I creating a situation that is going to provide the best outcome as it relates physiological responses? Am I putting people in a state of cognitive threat?
Changes don’t need to be big. Simple moderations to the design and logistics can have a large impact on how the mind reacts. Many times it is some of the simplest of changes, such as choosing walk-in music that you can sway to, that can change the cognitive response to a more positive one. The brain can organize music it can sway to unlike other types of music that the brain can’t organize and as a result triggers chaos in the brain. Planners can change participants’ innate chemical reactions by being mindful about the design.
How is Mindful Event Design Going the Distance?
Mindful event design clearly relates to M&IW Campus Week’s theme, Go the Distance. The topic pushes beyond boundaries of normal event management conversations and helps planners think and work differently. When planners prepare themselves to Go the Distance, they are only as good as they train, while practice helps them be the best they can be, pushing the paradigms of how they think allows them to prepare yourself to Go the Distance in event design. Ultimately, this helps planners create great mindful events that go above and beyond the norm.
In events, planners are creating temporary communities of culture. This is a perfect topic for looking at the cognitive science of human interaction in culture and collaboration to create what they want in that moment. By doing so, planners drive deeper meaning to those moments creating more impact for the culture, the collaboration and the clients who are experiencing the event.
The Evolution of Mindful Event Design
As a planner for 18 years, being fascinated with what planners do and why they do it became an obsession which led to being inspired by event marketing and thinking about the higher level of the planning process. Planners have this amazing ability to think high-level strategy and immediately equate it to tactical logistics. When measuring satisfaction, planners can survey and measure the responses, but in the end, it really all came down to one thing. How the participant felt. Perhaps an amazing keynote speaker was secured for $20,000 but it wouldn’t matter if the participant’s energy and feelings were not in a place to be receptive to the keynote’s message. And that began the mindful event design journey of how to help that participant be in a better place for them to want to network and be open to new ideas.
Not having a background in science and having a degree in criminal justice was not an obstacle. Learning science was very intimidating at first, but the drive to Go the Distance prevailed. And thus, began the idea of mindful event design and all the things that planners can bring into their world about cognitive science that will allow them to perform at their peak.
In closing, Janet shared that she is beyond excited to be speaking at M&IW’s Campus Week and Client Summit since it will provide her the opportunity to address an audience that is clearly dedicated and passionate about helping people have transformational experiences through events. She is excited to share her topic to help a culture of intelligent people think even more intuitively about what they do and how they can do it more mindfully.
Interested in learning more about this topic, read the whitepaper commission by PSAV and authored by Andrea E. Sullivan, M.A. Founder, Brain Strength Systems Media and Janet Sperstad, CMP, Director, Meeting and Event Management Program Madison College. Mindful Event Design Whitepaper