Hosting an event can be a lucrative investment in an environment that fuels engagement but, in an energy-draining climate that drives disengagement, an event can also be a costly investment.

To create an experience that benefits attendees and designers, content must align with the overall goals of the event and be presented in a comfortable and welcoming environment.

It must also meet or exceed expectations of guests, and be a multi-sensory depot of information, that’s free of clutter.

Finding the right strategy to connect with people despite a multitude of mental, emotional and physical diversions can be tricky. Event attendees are easily fatigued, preoccupied or overwhelmed by overwhelming amount of sensory and educational information available to them. At Debut, we help attendees overcome these challenges by using the right planning, research and execution. We’ll walk through a few cognitive challenges that we all face every day and explain how much they can cost us during an event or experience.


Exactly How BIG Is The Cost Of Non-Engagement?


Fatigue:  Exhaustion Demotivates Our Brain

Chances are, almost half of event attendees will be fatigued and disinterested. That’s according to a study published in 2007 which found that fatigue affects up to 45% of us at one given time (Ricci, Chee, Lorandeau, & Berger). And although we casually talk about being “tired” or having a “slow morning” fatigue is a serious condition that impairs levels of motivation and our ability to think properly.

When fatigued:

– People are less motivated and are unable to fully utilize the cognitive resources they have available.

– Cognitive abilities are impaired before the first message is delivered, or before we enter an experience.


Attention: Our Constant Battle Against Distracting Internal Thoughts

Another major barrier that needs to be tackled is the guest’s level of attention. According to a study by researchers at Harvard and Waterloo University, up to 52% of our time is spent mind-wandering- which is spontaneous thought that distracts people from focus (Seli, Risko, Smilek & Schacter, 2016).

About half of the time we are mind wandering we aren’t aware of it. For example, we’ve all experienced reading a book or article and after “reading” a few pages we have no idea what we’ve read! That’s unintentional mind wandering. The other half of the time we intentionally mind wander to save our mental energy or fight off boredom.

An attendee might appear to be fully immersed at a presentation, or fascinated by information at a booth, yet their thoughts are wandering to unrelated activities like a child’s piano recital, last night’s hockey game or upcoming plans with family.

Always remember that for more than half the time – despite the deceptive look of interest – a person has wandering thoughts and is not paying attention.

When mind wandering:

– We are less able to remember information and are paying less attention.

– We aren’t always aware that we are doing it!


Cognitive Load: Managing The Flow Of Information

When there is a lot of information to process, many guests will suffer brain drain. This happens when there’s too much material to upload, causing the brain to completely lose information or process it poorly.

We can only absorb three to five “chunks” of new information, like dates, names, or other facts at one time (Cowan, 2010). Think of the brain as a bucket of water with a constant inflow stream that can cause it to overflow. So, if there is too much content presented, some information will be lost or forgotten.

We can experience cognitive load from distractions as well, such as noise. Studies show that even obvious factors, like sustained noise, can cause us stress. This leads us to release a high amount of cortisol, the stress hormone, which is known to tremendously impair our memory (Cahill & McGaugh, 1998). Listening in a noisy environment also requires us to spend more of our memory capacity filtering out noise instead of processing valuable information – reducing our ability to understand new information.

When an experience is designed it must carefully manage the quantity of information and its flow to ensure that it makes a meaningful & memorable impact on event attendees.

When experiencing “cognitive overload”:

– We forget information completely or process it less carefully

– We can be stressed out and experience impaired memory


Adding It All Up: The Cumulative Cost Of Cognitive Challenges

These factors, and more, cumulatively reduce the quality of experiences. When we consider their cumulative effect – each factor disengaging us and our audience more and more – it’s clear that the cost of non-engagement is immense.

We can’t afford to design events and experiences without combatting the everyday cognitive challenges that we and our audiences face.

But, using the right research and design practices, we can start to “move the needle”.

We can reduce the cost of non-engagement and benefit with a higher return for attendees and experience designers.

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