The Neuroscience of Event Design


Event Africa Contributor May 7, 2019 Industry Events
neuroscience of event design

Pieter Swart, CMP, CMM, of Conference Consultancy SA, shares his experience and insights from working on the International Master Class: Neuroscience of Event Design.

Background on the Event

Conference Consultancy South Africa offers full services in conference planning and management, and take great care in ensuring every team member is competent for the position they fill. Established in 1998 by Pieter Swart, he says that in 1999 they were approached by a large multinational firm to share their knowledge and experience. “What started as an initial ‘one-off’ training consultancy developed into the event management knowledge sharing programmes we offer today,” Swart explains.

Addressing Industry Needs

The two-day short courses like the Neuroscience of Event Design are meant to address the needs of local professionals. As such, Conference Consultancy has developed programmes for those starting off in the industry, and for experienced planners at a strategic level.

For the work done in this regard, Pieter Swart was recognised by the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) with their prestigious award, the Global Meetings Executive of the Year 2016. At the ceremony, he was introduced to Janet Sperstad, CMP, by the PCMA President, Deborah Sexton. By this time, he had already introduced the Event Architecture International Masterclass series. Janet, an award winning and globally-recognised thought leader on Neurosciences in Event Planning, and Programme Director of Event Management at Madison College, was a natural choice to participate in the International Masterclass series that consists of one-off presentations. Janet participated in the programme at CSIR ICC in November 2018 – the fifth in the International Masterclasses series.

Neuroscience of Event Design

As our industry and profession matures, it’s more evident that solutions to certain challenges are found in science, hence the ever-developing concept that event planning and management is actually a science.

“We are looking closer at science to understand our profession better, to create meaningful meetings and events with impact,” Swart explains. “To understand what we need to do, we have to understand who we are doing it for. This can become really complex when considering age, gender, various other demographic factors, experience and exposure, and above all the event or meeting objectives and desired outcomes. Despite these aforesaid variables, human needs remain the same.”

The Science Backing It

By studying the brain (neuroscience), its functions, and its needs, we gain a better understanding of how to plan for optimal human engagement. Our brain selects or inhibits information based on our motivations and needs. Our social concerns are the primary drivers for how we behave. If event professionals know how our brain works, we can create experiences that maximise our attendees’ brain power and supercharge results. It is not only about creating engaging meetings, it’s about creating experiences that engage the social brain. On the first day of our master class, we explored recent neuroscience research on how the brain organises information and drives human behaviour and decision making. Once we understand the functions of the brain, the next question to explore is what stimulates the brain. Sense triggers such as colour, smell, taste, touch and sound are important considerations as is emotion. These are all design touch points that may influence event outcomes. We also have to understand what fuels the brain and how do we feed it – what is brain food, physically and psychologically?

So What Does Great Event Design Entail?

CSIR Executive Chef Francois Agenbach designed a never-before-seen menu that energised, surprised and delighted participants throughout the event.

“Good event design equates to constructing effective environments that produce measurable outcomes. Great event design is more mindful of the entire cognitive experience. Events are social experiences and events are about change,” Swart says.

Event professionals move people’s hearts and minds through the experiences we create. Janet Sperstad, CMP, shared insights from her 25 years as an event professional and her studies, practice and writing on neuro leadership. The event also explored how to optimise the physical space of our events to produce more moments of joy, meaning, creativity, and connectivity. Event and/or meeting design, for various reasons, has become much more prominent in the past couple of years, Swart explains. “Most notably is the shift towards the design domain in the Event Industry Council’s Certified Meeting Professional International Standards, as revised in 2017, from 16% to 34% of the test questions. Recognised international standards remain the industry benchmark.”

This article was first featured in Issue 1 of The Event.