Have you ever heard of the Peak-end rule? If you haven’t it’s about time that you do. It might be that piece of insight that may take your events to the next level.
Imagine this. You are on a fantastic holiday for two weeks in some exotic place. When you get home, you lose all your pictures and videos, moreover you are attacked by a rare virus that makes you forget everything you experienced on the vacation, in fact you can’t even remember that you have been on vacation. How much money would you spend on an experience like that? If you are like most other people you wouldn’t spend much. Why is that? After all, you had two great weeks, while you were there. The answer is simple, the most important for most of us, is not what you actually experienced, but what you remember. That’s why the vacation above is almost worthless.
Pschycologists destinguish between the experiencing self and the remembering self. The experiencing self is what you actually feel and experience during the activity. In this case all the wonderful moments you had during your two weeks vacation. The remembering self is what you remember after the activity. Which in this case would be nothing. The interesting thing is that the remembering self is more important to us than the experiencing self. That is probably why most of us are so eager to take pictures on holidays, instead of being present in the moment. We know that by taking all these selfies and shooting like crazy with our cameras, we are designing our future memories. A good memory or great picture can be reused again and again for the rest of our lifes, whereas the moment will soon be gone.
So what is it that shapes our memories? First we must understand that memories are not a 1:1 representation of what really happened, merely they are a compact half-fictive construct of reality, the same way a trailer is only the highlights of the movie and not the whole movie. The nobel Prize winning pschylogist Daniel Kahnemann and his reasearch team have found that what we remember of an event is the peak and the ending. The longitude of the event is not important. In pratice this means, that your memory of a vacation will be shaped by the best experience and the ending, whether the holiday was one or two weeks is not important. Daniel Kahnemann calls this the Peak-end rule. A rule all meeting- and eventplanners should know about, because it helps us design events and meetings that are remembered even better than they were experienced.
So how do you apply that knowledge to your next meeting or event?
Make a fantastic peak. Make sure that there are at least one time during the meeting, where the participants will have an extraordinary experience. And I’m not only talking about planning an amazing dinner in an old castle or in the nearby Opera. Those kinds of feel good peaks are of course worth a few pictures in the memory scrap book, but there are experiences more important than that. The best peak experiences are those that link to the objectives of the meeting, which has usually to do with increased networking or creating some sort of change or learning. The peak could look like this:
- Change peak: Make sure the participants are taking part in creating something important and meaningful that can change the future of the company or the world.
- Learning Peak: Make sure the participants learn something new and interesting that changes their behaviour or view of the world.
- Networking peak: Make sure the participants make new and deep connection with other participants. The amount of connections is not as important as the quality.
Make a fantastic ending. Often we do a lot to prepare the begining of the meeting and tend to forget the ending. But imagine this; You have read a fantastic novel, an exiting murder mystery. During the 400 pages you are completly absorbed by the story, in order to find out who the murderer is. But then, at the end of the book, the last five pages are missing, and you never find out who the murderer was. Do you think you will have a good memory of that book? Probably not, even though the 400 pages were extremely entertaining. You don’t want your event to end like that. Make sure there is a fantastic ending, so your participants can leave fullfilled and satisfied. A well designed ending can even save the memory of a poor meeting, the same way a surprising and intelligent plot can save a poor movie or book. When designing a fantastic ending think of this:
- Change ending. Wrap up the decisions and outcomes of the meeting and tell the participants what will happen next and how it will influence the future of their work, the company and the well-being of the customers. Make it short and precise.
- Feel good ending. Make a funny, happy, energizing and engaging ending that makes the participants leave lightheartet in a good mood.
- Learning ending. Make the participants wrap up, what they have learned and how they can apply it when they get home.
- Networking ending. Give the participants a common experience where they feel they belong to a big community or even family.
Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking fast and slow. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.