Conference Calls And The Brain-Body Connection

The body is deeply involved in human thinking. But although at one level that idea seems uncontroversial (we all know that we make better decisions when we’re well rested and reasonably fed), actually, there’s a whole lot more to understand.

580488_623132987698607_278299478_nAs I was explaining to a group of IT professionals in London last night, there’s an entire field of study, called embodied cognition, which explores how physical behaviour influences thoughts.

For example, if you hold a warm drink, you feel warmer towards other people. If you hold a heavy clipboard, you think the research is more important.

It turns out that both body and brain think, and communicate, in metaphor, by comparing one kind of thing to another kind of thing. Physical warmth is like emotional warmth. Physical weight is like academic weight.

The body-brain connection is pretty well known when planning face-to-face events. If you want a meeting to be quick and decisive, keep everyone standing up. If you want blue-sky thinking, take people offsite so they can see the sky.

The rule of thumb is that the more physical the experience, the more interesting and engaging it will be.

Bungee jumping, anyone?

So here’s the thing. Why do we forget about the body-brain link when planning virtual meetings?

Take conference calls, for example. They’re notoriously boring – possibly because they typically do nothing to engage most of the body. All we’re using is the auditory system, and the most rational parts of the brain.

The received wisdom is to stick rigidly to an agenda, point by point, in a desperate struggle to keep everyone focussed.

That might work with disembodied brains in jars. It doesn’t work with whole human beings.

Instead, unengaged bodies do other things – at a cost to the brain’s focus. 47 per cent of people go to the loo while on a conference call. 55 per cent make and eat food.*

What if, instead, we found ways to make our online meetings more interesting? What if we made the experience more physical, so that it becomes more engaging and interesting for the whole human being?

Could we stand up? Move around? Go for a virtual walk together? Or even share a team dance party?

  • What ideas do you have? Please comment below.

4 thoughts on “Conference Calls And The Brain-Body Connection”

  1. That’s right…It’s why many companies do team building and do many physical activities in the time being…Making things embodied into their staff members 😉

  2. Jacqui Stearn

    An excellent short, snappy and informative article. I have come across the embodied cognition concept before during an excellent FutureLearn MOOC on cognitive poetics.led by Peter Stockwell at the University of Nottingham. I
    I can personally vouch for the voracity of the data suggesting that we make food and drink and go to the loo on a conference call and would add putting on or out the washing to those two.

    I can’t wait to find out how it’s possible to have a team walk or dance party.

  3. Interesting 🙂 I wonder what difference it would make? Several colleagues have reported good success with one person joining a round-the-table meeting via propped-up iPad…

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *