Rob Davidson tops up our energy reservoirs
One of the first things I notice when I get up on stage to present is the energy level in the room.
This is something that appears to fluctuate, being generally higher early on but often dropping precipitously towards the end of the day. Naturally, the problem can sometimes lie with the speaker – a good one can boost participants’ energy levels even in the notorious ‘graveyard slot’ after lunch, by sheer force of personality and riveting content. By the same token, a poor speaker (unprepared, off-topic, monotonous, etc.) can drain even a spirited audience of their valuable energy.
But often the problem is that the conference is too long or that breaks are too infrequent. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy highlighted the importance of taking brief but regular breaks throughout the working day due to what are called, in physiological terms, our ‘ultradian rhythms’ – the 90- to 120-minute cycles during which our bodies slowly move from a high-energy state into a physiological trough. Toward the end of each cycle, the body begins to crave a period of recovery. The signals include restlessness, yawning, hunger, and difficulty concentrating. Schwartz and McCarthy claim that if we ignore these signs and keep on working, the consequence is that our energy reservoir—our remaining capacity—burns down.
Clearly long stretches of speaker after speaker are a recipe for the kind of participant energy-depletion that can make such events unsuccessful.
Perhaps conference organisers can learn from the world of education, where lecturers are faced daily with the challenge of capturing and retaining the attention of classrooms full of easily-bored Millennials.
Techniques I can recommend for keeping energy levels high include:
• Check participants’ basic physiological needs are being met: Is the room too warm or too cold? Is everyone desperate for a coffee? It’s human nature to focus on getting a particular need met, at the expense of everything else.
• Let the participants go outside for a few minutes. Exposure to sunlight is a source of Vitamin D, which boosts energy. Venues with gardens and terraces make this technique easy.
• Experiment with a variety of formats. For example, instead of speaker monologues, try the chat-show format, with the speaker responding to questions.
• Get physical: invite the participants to get up and move around between presentations, or take exercise during the breaks.
• Make them laugh. Laughter stretches muscles, burns calories and produces a natural energy booster.
• Our brains are not equipped for simultaneously undertaking two or more tasks that require brainpower. So encourage participants to set aside the distractions (smartphones and i-Pads) and focus solely on the tasks or ideas being discussed.
• Adequate hydration has a huge impact on energy levels, so make sure water is available, and if you need to tart it up a bit, add real fruit to it, not sugary cordial.