#PCMA12 Day 1: Keynoters

PCMA did something pretty bold yesterday—they shook up the general session format, omitting the association business items that usually slow things to a crawl and splitting the keynotes into three separate, but related, speakers. And they were awesome.

My favorite by a hair was John Medina, PhD, author of Brain Rules and the director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University, who has to be the funniest neuroscience guy I've heard yet. He revealed some stunningly obvious yet often ignored "brain rules," like "people don't pay attention to boring things." Duh, right? Except we always seem to expect them to listen to that lecturer drone on as he reads his Powerpoint. And that we can only absorb new information for about 10 minutes before we need to shut off the data hose and digest. (Digression: He demonstrated how the human brain needs to chunk information into groups it can understand by asking us to memorize a stream of letters in seconds. It was impossible, until you realized that the stream of letters consisted of four acronyms. Then, of course, it was easy.)

So we need to find ways to divvy up the info into short bits, then give the brain a way to make meaning of it between chunks by showing how it relates to elemental human needs (is it food? Will it consider me to be food? Etc.).

Joining us next via Skype (and yes, PCMA staff gave an audible sigh of relief when the link picked up clear) was gaming expert and author Jane McGonigal, who explained the whole concept of gamification (I really dislike that term, BTW) and how cool it would be if we could harness all the brainpower that goes into hurling angry birds at pigs to solve real-world problems.

I loved this quote: "The opposite of play is not work--it's depression." She walked us through an example of a game she did for the centennial of the New York City library that incorporated the four things you can do to create game-like engagement: build a sense of urgent optimism (invited people to be a part of an overnight event where they would come up with ways to change the world for the better through finding clues); weave a tight social fabric (as they worked together through the night to find the clues, make the case for their ideas, etc.); create blissful productivity (see above); and make them be a part of something that has epic meaning (created an actual book that became a part of the library's collection). It literally gave me goosebumps.

Sally Hogshead

, author of Fascinate, then took us through the seven triggers we can use to create fascination in others, using online dating profiles as examples of what instantly grabs and what doesn't. One thing that she said that should strike fear (or inspire serious thought) in the heart of online marketers is that, though we can withstand up to 10 minutes of info load in real life, online we have an attention span of 9 seconds, the same as a goldfish, she said.

I didn't get as much from her as I did the two previous speakers, but I will have to go see what my F-score is: Something to do while waiting for my redeye home!

Kudos to PCMA for taking a chance on a new format for its opening general session, and for its choice in speakers.

Speaking of speakers, I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention the day's closing general session speaker, New York Times columnist David Brooks. I'm a big fan, so he didn't say much I hadn't heard before, but I just love his delivery, sense of humor, willingness to take questions at the end, insights on today's bizarre political scene (he said it's so polarized now that Democrats and Republicans won't even sit in the same green room together before the Sunday morning show, which I found just appalling). A big takeaway for me was his reminder, with scientific backup, that so much of what influences how we think about things is driven by our un- and subconscious mind.

This reminded me of a conversation I had lately with the fabulous thinker and communications expert Kare Anderson. She left a comment on a blog post about cross-sensory perception and meetings, and I had to find out more. She pointed out to me strange things like we tend to feel more warmly toward someone who hands us a warm beverage instead of an iced one, and that rooms with lots of hard edges and angles make us, well, edgy. We talked about all this a lot more in the Really Live Chat on meeting design I later facilitated (Kare was one of the thought leaders whose recorded thoughts were available to spark conversations), so it was very cool when Brooks circled back around to it. There have been a lot of echoes and resonances like that at this meeting for me, which just keeps deepening the learning. I love that.

Back to Brooks...my favorite quote of his: "Emotion is not the opposite of reason; it is the basis of reason because it allows us to assign bias to things."

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