What type of learner are you? Visual? Audial? Tactile?
The answer, in truth, is all of the above – and more. We gain vital information everyday through each of our five senses.
For example: Our eyes see round and red. Our fingers feel smooth. Our mouth tastes sweetness. Our ears hear the crunch. Our nose smells the honeyed air. All of those sensations combine in our brain to form our understanding of an apple.
Our senses work together to give us a complete picture of an object, person, event, etc. When all five senses are stimulated, we remember events more clearly and appreciate them more (especially when our reactions to the stimuli are positive).
The Psychology of the Senses
Have you ever tried to sell a house? What advice were you given about the amount of items to leave on your counters or shelves? Were family photos left on the walls or were they taken down. Did you bake cookies before a showing?
The cleanliness of the home, the smell, can all impact how quickly it will sell.
The same is true with any event. The more you can engage your attendees, the more successful it will be. Events professionals are in the business of engaging the senses. So it helps to understand the psychology of how someone’s sensory experiences affect him or her.
Small, everyday sensations have a huge impact on our psyche that we often don’t even realize. For example, Cambridge conducted an experiment that found people who were riding up an escalator were more likely to give money to a charity box than those who had just taken one down. The findings were that we equate the feeling of going up with positive morality (think of an escalator to heaven), whereas the feeling of descent is equated to depravity.
When multiple senses are triggered, experiences become more intensely memorable.
The Sense of Smell Institute (which is the research and education division of The Fragrance Foundation, which, itself, is the educational arm of the international fragrance industry) performed a study that found, after three months, people could only recall about 50 percent of the visual images they saw. However, even after a year has passed, folks are able to remember more 65 percent of what they smell.
Granted, that study may have been biased toward smell, so what about these findings from Oxford University? This research examined the interactions between two or more senses and discovered that context had a massive impact on how we perceived a situation. For example:
- Color can change how we perceive flavor. The study had people drink the same hot chocolate for different cups. Folks that drank from orange cups found the beverage to have the strongest flavor, while cream-colored cups delivered sweetness and an intense aroma. Also, when desert is eaten off a white plate, it was rated 10 percent sweeter than those served on a black plate.
- Music can change how something tastes. Three groups drank the same wine but listened to different music. They each reported a diverse flavor profile for the wine. The study found that we associate lower notes with bitterness and higher notes with sweetness.
- Touch can also impact the perception of flavor. When people ate two samples of the same yogurt – one off a silver spoon and the other off a plastic spoon – they reported that the silver spoon yogurt tasted creamier.
These studies prove that, when you can utilize the five senses, you can positively influence how someone perceives you, your products, and your company.
With that in mind, here are some effective ways you can engage the five senses at your next event.
Sight is probably the sense that gets the most use at events (although hearing may have something to say about that).
You want your visitors to be wowed from the moment they arrive. Think about the location of your event. Is it being hosted in a stately, older building or a generic convention center? How can you use the location to your advantage? How can you make a display stand out from those surrounding you?
Yet, your sight campaign begins well before anyone arrives at your event. Start by creating excitement about the meeting and its destination with visually appealing invitations and teaser campaigns.
Make sure that your social media strategy is visually appealing and encourages sharing of equally compelling content. Understand how you can use popular apps – such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat – to build buzz. This needs to extend through the event itself. Create a custom hashtag and have a giveaway for the most creative photo to encourage photo sharing. This is an easy way to generate massive amounts of visual content. You can also provide a social media wall where each attendee can see their contribution writ large.
Creative use of video displays and inventive lighting will also help to make you event a memorable one. Also, don’t underestimate how areas dedicated to picture booths and/or virtual reality displays can engage your visitors.
Events can be noisy, raucous affairs. It’s your job to ensure, not only that you are heard, but also that your visitors hear what you want them to. Think about what sort of music you can use to underscore your message. You could also set aside some time for live music and DJs.
If you have an outdoor area, consider piping in the sound of birds chirping or water falling (or importing some birds and including a water feature).
How could you surprise your visitors with the audio selection? What could you provide that is outside of your – and their – comfort zone that still enhances the overall experience?
The guest speakers are also an important part of the auditory event. What tone are they striking and how can you complement it. Would ambient sounds or music enhance or detract from their speech? Also, spice up the speaker rotation by including some storytellers or establish a short, TED Talks format.
It is also good advice to have a professional on hand to troubleshoot any issues. Audio can be tricky. All it takes is a short in a wire or a lose speaker connection to turn your pleasant, ambient soundscape into a cracking, feedback-filled nightmare.
This one is easy, right? Hire a good caterer. So, on to touch, then?
Not so fast.
Taste isn’t just about great tasting food (granted, that is very important). It is also about how you integrate the food into the event itself. You want to align the taste component with the attendees and location.
Taste should be as much about the experience of eating as the eating itself. Is your event in an area with a rich culinary history? Use that history to educate as well as entertain. Is there a bustling food scene nearby? Invite the chefs and owners to be a part of the event (or think of a clever way to replicate the scene within the confines of your location). Are there farmer’s markets or sustainable options in the immediate or adjoining neighborhoods? Find a way to incorporate those foods in the menu.
Are there several vendors at the event in the food and beverage business? Maybe their products could be the available food options. Attendees could go from booth to booth getting a taste of the exhibition.
What about a cocktail hour where visitors mix their own drink? Invite a mixologist to demonstrate how to take a relatively staid drink and turn it into an exciting concoction.
Food is fun, but you may need to remind your visitors of that fact.
This is all about the things that attendees will interact with.
Touch includes everyday items, like furniture. Are the textures comfortable, not comfortable enough, too comfortable? What is the purpose of this furniture? Do you want guests to be able to sit and network, or would you like some turnover in the seating? Either could be accomplished with the correct textured and apportioned chair.
You can also incorporate areas that are specifically designed to enhance touch. One example is a virtual reality experience where you provide items to touch that correspond with images the viewer is witnessing in the headset.
Product displays are another area where touch should be encouraged. You want attendees to be able to pick up and “play” with your products. Let them get as much hands-on experience as possible. The more they can handle your product, the better they will understand its function and potential.
As mentioned above, smell is inexorably tied to memory. So, if you want your event to be memorable, you need to have pleasant smells that are pleasing to your guests but not overpowering enough to be noticeable.
You can select different smells for different areas of the event. But be careful. You don’t want smells from different areas intermingling. That could be an olfactory disaster. Also keep in mind that you don’t want to add a scent to an area that is already going to have its own smell, such as where food is being served.
That being said, you can use smell to enhance visitors’ experience. For example, adding a little peppermint to the air can help keep folks alert and aid in memory retention during educational sessions.
Finally, know that, no matter how hard to try, the scent you choose is going to compete with other smells, such as fragrances used by attendees. You want to be sure that the aroma you select can compete with other smells and not negatively interact with them.
You have to be thoughtful when attempting to engage all five senses in an event, but the results are worth the effort. By creating an immersive experience, you are delivering content that your attendees will remember and want to experience again. For more tips on creating an event that stimulates the senses, give The Trade Group a call at 800-343-2005.