Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the happiest event planner of them all? Why should we care about how the event planner and his or her team feel? Because emotions are contagious. This isn’t a new concept. We feel it in the office when our boss is having a bad day and it spreads like wildfire to the whole team.
The reason we feel other people’s emotions is something called emotional contagion produced by mirror neurons. In the best-selling book, “The Happiness Advantage,” author Shawn Achor describes mirror neurons as “specialized brain cells that can actually sense and then mimic the feelings, actions and physical sensations of another person.” Our emotions shift based on the people we surround ourselves with. Achor says, “The amygdala can read and identify an emotion in another person’s face within 33 milliseconds and then, just as quickly, prime us to feel the same.”
I would argue that event planners and event teams are the amygdala (the emotional center of the brain) of the event and the experience.
Planners touch every aspect of the event experience with different relationships involved: the venue, AV company, entertainers, speakers, decor suppliers, clients and attendees. Studies have shown that when strangers are in a room together, the most emotionally expressive person transmits his or her mood—both positive and negative—to the others within two minutes.
I consider myself an extension of my team and I believe in a positive relationship with vendors for the success of the event. Unfortunately, I have been in a couple of situations with negative vendors who have stressed me out on-site, and I had to have some difficult conversations with them or their superiors asking for more positivity or a change in staffing.
We all have bad days and are all human, however, we only have one shot with our attendees and their experiences and ensuring there is a positive rapport between you and your vendors is crucial to the overall experience. Sometimes it’s not even your interaction with the vendor, but if they are facing attendees, then the attendees will feel their emotions as well.
Dr. Brynn Winegard, a keynote speaker and expert in business and brain science, explains that although the event planner isn’t the show, attendees are looking to them for nonverbal emotional indicators. She says research in emotional neuroscience proves when a person or an event planner, in this case, is suppressing their blood pressure but looks calm lights up the mirror neuron system of those in the room. As their blood pressure rises to match, they are worried, concerned and feel stressed but don’t know why.
It’s important for the event planner to actively calm down as opposed to trying to fake it in front of the attendees. Take a few minutes away from the attendees and find a quiet room to meditate, listen to your favorite music and stay hydrated. This way, your blood pressure levels will drop and your stress doesn’t set off any alarms in the attendees’ mirror neuron system.
But, if you have lost the room, plant a few overtly positive event staff, committee members or an emcee to travel around the room and infect others with their positivity. Your attendees subconsciously will mimic their facial expressions, body language and tone in their voice.
Good Vibes Only
They say the most important thing you can wear is your smile. “Smiling, for instance, tricks your brain into thinking you’re happy,” says Achor.
There is a lot of evidence that also shows by changing your physical behavior, like your posture, your emotions will soon follow. It is also not surprising why we smile so much at the registration desk when we are welcoming guests. When you smile at an attendee, you are firing up their mirror neuron system and they can feel the emotions related to a smile, like warmth, happiness and positivity.
Smiling also ignites the feeling of reward in the brain. And rewarding the attendee with not only our smiles but with a positive event experience is an event planner’s ultimate goal.
Achor rounds out his conclusion using the popular Butterfly Effect theory to reiterate how a positive mindset can have a positive rippling effect on our families, workplace and communities. “A single butterfly flapping its wings can create a hurricane halfway around the world… the flap of a butterfly’s wings may be one tiny motion, but it creates a slight gust of wind that eventually picks up greater and greater speed and power.” In other words, a change in our emotions could have a positive effect on the overall attendee experience. It's time to be cognizant.