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or an advertising jingle — are very difficult to keep in mind. And the participants in these studies were young adults. Think about it. Four sentences. That’s not a lot. No wonder meetings often seem so chaotic. No one can make sense of what’s going on. It gets worse. A study by Brian McElree at


New York University found that the number of chunks of information you can remember accurately with no memory degradation is, remarkably, only one. While you can obviously remember more than one thing at a time, your memory degrades for each item when you hold a lot in mind.


Clearly this is a limitation worthy of


respect. Yet for some reason a lot of people want to buck against it. At the Summit: Not all sessions or breaks are created equally, because your brain uses a lot of energy. There is a half-hour long break in the morning, when your brain’s capacity is at its peak. In the afternoon, the break stretches to an hour.


From the book: The prefrontal cortex chews up metabolic fuel, such as glucose and oxygen, faster than people realize. The stage uses up power quickly, and as the lights dim, it gets harder to hold actors in the right place and stop others from getting on the stage. This tendency means scheduling the most atten- tion-rich tasks when you have a fresh and alert mind. This could be early in the morning, or perhaps after a break or exercise. The prefrontal cortex has much in common with other energy-hungry body parts such as muscles. It tires from use, and can do a lot more after a good rest. Making a tough


decision might take 30 seconds when you are fresh and impossible when you’re not. At the Summit: Networking is not something that fills in spaces in the program — it’s a centerpiece. More than four hours a day are devoted to structured and unstruc- tured conversation. Making friends at conferences, and talking with them about ideas, helps your brain perform at an optimal level.


From the book: Being connected to others in a positive way, feeling a sense of relatedness, is a basic need for human beings, similar to eating and drinking. Surrounding yourself with friends not only helps you think better, it also enables you to see situations from novel perspectives, by “looking through other people’s eyes.” In the same way, having people you trust around can also help bring about insights, by broadening thinking and helping you to see your own thinking. Having friends helps you change your


brain, because you get to speak out loud more often. One experiment showed that when people repeated out loud what they were learning, the speed of their learning and their ability to apply that learning to other situations increased. When you speak to someone about an idea, many more parts of your brain are activated than just thinking about the idea, including memory regions, language regions, and motor centers. This is a process called spreading activation. Spreading activation makes it easier to recall ideas later on, as you have left a wider trail of connec- tions to follow. n


— Barbara Palmer


“When you speak to someone about an idea, many more parts of your brain are activated than just thinking about the idea, including memory regions, language regions, and motor centers.”


www.pcma.org pcma convene January 2012 27 


MEETINGS MANUAL: Rock’s 2009 book is aimed at helping indi- viduals transform their business performance by applying insights from neuroscience and psychology. These principles, Rock has learned, also are appli- cable to the business of meetings.


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