The Best Engagers are Pretty Smart Cookies

Next time you’re preparing to engage with an audience – whether with one person, a meeting with 8-10, or a large group – if you want to make a connection, provide meaningful content and have a lasting impact, it may help to remember one thing: Chocolate chunk cookies.

How the Brain Works

Studies show that the average person is receiving information 12 hours out of every day. Did you know that our working brain can only hold about five “chunks” of information at a time? That means that your brain is constantly making new decisions about what chunks to keep, trade, or get rid of. So if you want your audience to “keep” and use what you are going to share with them, there’s one important & simple thing you can do to ensure your stuff becomes and remains one of those “chunks”.

Provide a Simple Framework So Their Brain Can “File” Your Content

At the very beginning of the engagement, share an overview of what you will cover & then provide a framework for how you will deliver it. This way participants know what to expect, and can create a specific place in their brains for receiving the information you will share. Here is an example:

Start with the broad overview, “Today we are going to learn about how to leverage basic neurological facts, in order to most effectively engage an audience with maximum impact, and provide them with the most value.”

Next, provide the empty “mental file folders” you will help them fill, “We will cover three areas: (1) How the brain manages information (2) How the brain receives information (3) How to ensure the brain “keeps” your information.”

What you’ve done is calmed the brain by creating room for the information you will share, as well as a way to organize it. Now your audience is ready to hear, see, and interact with you. They will be able to give their full attention to experiencing what you’ve prepared, rather than being distracted by searching for where the information “fits” or belongs, and how it relates to the big picture.

Deliver Information that Gets Encoded & “Kept”

People don’t pay attention to things that are boring. So how do we make sure that what we share captures the audience’s attention, gets encoded & kept? Here are just a couple of ways:

Cause an emotional reaction. Make them laugh, inspire them, peak their interest, or cause concern. The visual nerve carries information to the brain 40 times faster than the auditory nerve. Images can be very powerful because they get encoded into the brain in two different ways, and therefore are harder to clean out of a person’s mental “file” cabinet. How do you leverage that? Instead of PowerPoint slides filled with text and data – use big, bold pictures that convey the information meaningfully, show the consequences of an action (positive or negative), while providing the data verbally.

Stimulate more of the senses at the same time. When people see and hear things at the same time, they are more likely to “keep” that information. When you add interaction like writing or another activity where they have to use the information, it increases the likelihood even more.

Next week I look forward to starting a discussion about specific ways for helping an audience experience interactions with us so that they receive the most value, in ways that are most useful for them. Meanwhile, an easy-to-read book that provides additional interesting and practical information about this topic is Brain Works by Dr. John Medina.