As event planners begin to understand the power of music to shape behaviour, delegates are dancing to their tune.

A growing body of research is showing that music not only has the potential to impact how we feel, but can influence the way we perceive the world and even how we behave within it.

We’ve all heard of the Mozart Effect – studies having shown that listening to classical music enhances higher brain function and increases cognitive performance. Similarly when we hit the gym, an upbeat playlist gets us pumped, whereas when we’re looking to relax after a long day, we use ambient music to help us unwind.

For decades in the hospitality and consumer industries, marketeers have been obsessed with how subconscious listening can evoke a particular response. By understanding how different styles of music affect behaviour within certain environments, event profs can similarly manipulate the delegate experience, guiding people towards desired outcomes.

Certain genres provide subtle cues to encourage listeners to specific actions, whether speeding up or slowing down, spending more or even developing an appreciation of the finer things in life. Classical music is perceived as the genre of choice for those with expensive tastes, while jazz is often considered to be underpinned by experimentation and artistic creativity. Using these cultural associations we attach to certain genres, we can influence how we want people to feel about our events.

Restaurants looking for a faster customer turnover at busy times are notorious for using high-tempo hits to get people in and out. But when the energy levels get too high, particularly on post-pub Friday nights, McDonalds customers will find themselves eating a Big Mac to Bach, in a move McDonalds have described as a tested method “to encourage more acceptable behaviour.”

How Could Music Influence Your Events?

When applying these principles to the event industry, it might seem obvious that the faster or louder the music, the quicker delegates will move, and inversely so with languorous melodies. However, many event planners barely give a thought to background ambience, often resorting to a stock Top 40 playlist.

By knowing what effect you want to elicit and when, a bit of strategic timing will help you achieve your event goals. If you’re hoping to attribute credibility to a speaker, or increase sales of high value items, classical music has been shown to temporarily increase perceived value, listeners projecting the associations of refinement they have with the music onto the person or product itself.

Ask yourself what mood you want to create for each element of your event. When attendees are networking, creating a relaxed atmosphere with laid-back chillout music can help ease nervous tension among those stressed about the idea of meeting new people and help facilitate interaction.

However, during your keynote sessions, you don’t want people falling asleep to a bedtime ambient playlist. Keep the audience energised by creating a buzz with upbeat dance numbers. Power ballads also prove a great choice for ending an event on a high.

Never underestimate the power of silence. After a huge build-up of energetic music before a speaker is about to deliver a key message, a sudden hush descending across the auditorium can make a big impact, delegates quieting down as they take the subconscious cue that something significant is about to happen.

The most important factor however, is ensuring the musical selection fits with both your target demographic and your brand. Remember, there’s a time and a place for everything. It can be tempting to go overboard, so bear in mind if the volume is cranked too high, or the selection overly jars against what attendees would normally expect – what should be background music will start competing for their attention.

Why not take it to the next level? In our last issue, we explored how musical workshops might provide an exciting team building opportunity for your company!