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DOCKSIDE JOURNAL ENTRY / November 15, 2017

Your Brain on Events: The Neuroscience Behind TEDxSeattle



At its core, TEDxSeattle is driven by the intention to spark conversation and bring together a community. On November 18, thousands of guests will fill McCaw Hall who share the common goal of learning something new.

The TEDxSeattle team brought together 14 speakers this year that come from a wide range of backgrounds, from the co-founder of the Pacific hyperloop to a critically acclaimed local film artist. TEDxSeattle speaker team, in curating its lineup, focuses more on ideas than “names,” in an effort to democratize the spread of great ideas. That drive towards innovation and change is ultimately what takes the speaker lineup so compelling.

SHW partnered with TEDxSeattle for the first time this year because as event planners, we understand the power of bringing people together. The experience of a program like TEDxSeattle –from the speaker lineup to breaks to lunch conversation tables – can form a powerful, unified experience. In fact, science proves that well-crafted events can alter our brain chemistry.

In 2007, Dr. Paul Zak discovered how engaging stories release oxytocin, a neurochemical that acts as a neurotransmitter – and is responsible for empathy and trust.

Dr. Zak’s early work at the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University involved participants watching a short video about a father and his terminally ill toddler. As participants formed an emotional connection to the story’s subjects, their levels of oxytocin increased. The surprising result was that the audience not only empathized with the father and child in the story, but also found that they were more generous when given the opportunity to give money to other participants.

According to Dr. Zak, TED’s focus on sharing stories is a uniquely powerful forum. “The ecosystem of TED has changed the planet, for sure,” he says. “In our current studies, we wrote algorithms to measure peak experiences at events and found two things. First, people aren’t all in, all the time. We see more of a sine wave pattern in audience engagement. Second, is that we see those peak experiences in two places: when there’s an emotional connection or when there’s a change in presenting style, such as using a prop on stage.”

The TEDxSeattle team came up with this year’s theme, “Changing Places,” with this big idea in mind:  each of us has personal power to make positive change through passion and empathy. The stories curated look at ways individuals affect places and issues they care about, through action and empathy.

While TEDxSeattle isn’t selling any one idea, they do aim to drive positive change within the community. “If each person walks away from the event with at least one new idea, or thought about an old idea in a way they never have before, we know we’ve done our jobs,” said Lisa Phelps Dawes, Speaker Team Co-Chair.

These connections are something that we at SHW have known intuitively for nearly 40 years. Time and again, we witness how thoughtful, well-planned events that focus on interaction and attendee experience help our clients meet and exceed their expectations.

“We think that we’re in such a digital world,” says Dr. Zak. “What really surprised me when we started running experiments at in-person events, is that events like TED have a way larger bandwidth. Events like TED aren’t going away, the theater isn’t going away, conferences aren’t going away: the brain really digs big bandwidth.

“So it shows me that we still need to get out of our houses and off of our couches and go to events,” he says. “And have experiences not only as a presenter but also as the audience.”

You can learn more about Dr. Paul Zak’s research, or his most recent book, The Science of Creating High Performance Companies, by visiting his website.

To learn more about this year’s event visit the TEDxSeattle website or purchase tickets via their online portal.

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