The Peak-End Rule was first introduced by Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who suggested that rather than the sum of all experiences associated with an event, people lock in on a blend of how it was at its peak (best moment) and how it ended. Everything else tends to fade away.
As I became more curious about how this might apply to the conference realm, I indulged in watching a TED Talk Dr. Kahneman delivered in 2010: The Riddle of Experience vs. Memory. It's fascinating stuff with plenty of takeaways for conference planners.
For starters, Dr. Kahneman explores two versions of self:
- The Experiencing Self (who lives in the present)
- The Remembering Self (who keeps score)
In story after story, he shared how the Remembering Self has far more impact on future perceptions (and decisions) than the Experiencing Self. For example, you can go on a week-long vacation where things go miserably for the first five or six days, but if that final day is delightful, you're more likely to remember that vacation fondly.
Are We Giving the Conference Finale Enough Attention?
I don't know about you, but most conferences I've attended start strong, but end with a fizzle. By the final day, the crowd has thinned down considerably. The energy and buzz is noticeably down. Rarely will you see an A-List speaker booked for the Closing General Session and at first glance, it's understandable. Some attendees (particularly senior executives) tend to make early exits. The longer the conference lasts, the more likely you'll see this staggered departure play out.
- Perhaps we'd do better to bookend the conference experience with a strong opener and an even stronger closer.
- Perhaps we'd do better to compress the conference experience over a shorter span of days, so more people experience the big finish.
Applying this same concept to concurrent sessions, how often do you watch speakers run out of time and race to the finish line? We need to help our speakers understand how this Peak-End Rule applies to how their sessions play out and perceived value on the part of attendees. We need to encourage speakers to watch the clock and make sure they end with a powerful story and message. That's what attendees will remember most.
Ending your conference with a crescendo experience is critical to grow attendance loyalty. After all, it will be the attendees' Remembering Selves that will determine whether they return next time.