Hotels are offering more types of differentiators to help attract increasingly curious visitors—and that includes meeting planners and group business. In November, the Corinthia Hotel London welcomed Dr. Tara Swart for a world-first, yearlong term as neuroscientist in residence. What does this actually mean for the hotel, the doctor and visiting meeting and event groups?
What does “neuroscientist in residence” for a hotel entail?
As a neuroscientist and leadership coach, I advise people whose professions or lifestyle mean that mental resilience is essential and expected, helping business leaders to gain a competitive edge through peak brain performance. My ambition is to help as many people as possible get the best out of our brains, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the Corinthia and their extraordinary guests and five-star staff. A hotel offers a unique microcosm filled with people under differing types and degrees of mental pressure—[people involved in] important business trips or meetings, trying to relax, doing their normal day jobs in a busy environment, travelling and coping with jetlag. It therefore makes for a particularly interesting place to observe differences in mental resilience, and be able to offer suggestions as to how it might be improved.
The Neuroscientist in Residence program encompasses a range of things:
- Throughout the year, I will be giving a series of lectures, with topics ranging from psychopaths in the boardroom to technology and the brain.
- I have designed a Brain Power package, with brain food and “mocktails” available in the restaurants and bar and spa treatments designed to enhance cognitive function. I’ve worked with hospitality to put together an in-room service designed to enhance sleep.
- I will also be working with the staff to undertake a survey comparing the mental resilience of different departments within the hotel.
- I’ll be working with VIP Corinthia guests as well, to provide some taster sessions and insights into their mental resilience.
You mentioned psychopaths in the boardroom. How can planners be successful despite psychopaths in the boardroom who are involved with their business meetings and conferences?
It is true that there is a higher percentage of people with psychopathic personality traits in the boardroom than in the general population, but there is also a lot of hyperbole around this topic and psychopaths are in fact much less common than we might be lead to believe. They are, for example, much more prevalent in the prison population than among the C-suite. Dealing with a psychopath can take great mental resilience as they thrive in chaos so tend to create it, and this is draining for others. Properly fuelling, hydrating, oxygenating and resting the brain helps long term as this improves the executive functions in the brain including your capacity to think flexibly, solve complex problems and regulate your emotions—key when dealing with a challenging boss. Shorter term, such as at an event or meeting, distracting displays of behavior should be [handled] with a minimum of attention or ignored as much as possible!
Regarding the impact of technology on the brain, will you address the ways technology can hinder brain function, how it can improve it or both? What do you think will be the effect of virtual reality technology to augment cognitive function?
Yes, I’ll certainly be addressing the benefits and drawbacks of technology on the brain. Virtual reality has the potential to really advance areas like education, so it will be a very interesting development for the child brain when neural rewiring and pruning is happening at a particularly fast and efficient rate as well as in adult learning and behavior change. As with any type of technology, however, it will be important to have time away from the screen. Melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate our sleep, is released by the pineal gland into the bloodstream. The blue light that phone and laptop screens emit confuses the gland because darkness is what triggers it to start work. Getting to sleep, and the quality of our sleep, can therefore be negatively affected by this.
What is the duration of your residency?
To begin with, the residency will be one year (November 2016-November 2017). Obviously this is a world first and we are currently working on developing the concept to make the coming year as much of a success as possible. We’ll see what happens next—watch this space!
Why were you interested in taking on this unique residency?
As pressures and stress seem to increase in our day-to-day lives, it’s never been more important to understand our brains and how to keep them in top condition. There are so many simple tips I can share that can enable people to lead happier, healthier lives with their brains at the forefront. Being the neuroscientist in residence is a unique opportunity for me to work with the Corinthia to try and communicate this.
Have you been tasked with providing any aid or recommendations, from a neuroscience vantage point, for groups holding meetings or events at the Corinthia—perhaps with tips for incorporating cognitive wellness into their programs or using your scientific background to help meetings/events be more effective?
For anyone staying at or using the hotel, including for meetings and events, encompassing the neuroscience-based suggestions that have informed the program will be really useful, including how to improve sleep quality and hydrate and fuel the brain effectively to enhance cognitive function. Similarly, for those professionals whose job it is to organize busy events and meetings, achieving optimum brain health will be crucial for keeping on top of their workload and reaching their peak performance.
I run a series of group workshops (more details) and regularly advise large corporates and top-tier firms on how teams can work together more effectively using neuroscience-backed tips.
Do you have advice for ways in which planners can achieve more successful meetings/events through understanding of neuroscience concepts?
Understanding group dynamics from a neuroscience perspective can be really useful for people trying to organize meetings/events with lots of people. The way in which we interact in a group is often closely connected with the chemicals in our brains and bodies. For example, the “stress” hormone cortisol is contagious; men or women who are suppressing high levels of cortisol can affect the hormone levels of people around them because their excessive cortisol will eventually pass into the skin of others and adapt their internal physiology. Running an event or meeting with a particularly stressed-out group of colleagues, for example, may be problematic for this reason.
Ways in which we can induce a calmer state collectively at meetings and events include encouraging the production of oxytocin, the “bonding hormone” which is likely to be more in abundance in a situation where people can communicate and interact freely over a shared experience. This lowers our guard and makes us warmer towards others, as well as encouraging feelings of acceptance and belonging, rather than isolation.
Can you share some neuroscience-based tips to help meeting/event planners organize better meetings/events?
Specific suggestions include:
- Lots of breaks
- Short, high-impact sessions using visuals, music, video, color, etc., with high levels of variety between session types to stimulate the brain.
- Walking or fresh air breaks and meetings/breakouts to oxygenate the brain effectively.
- Brain-boosting food, including food rich in magnesium, which helps to reduce the stress hormone cortisol.
- Plenty of still water readily available.