Every conference planner should know about the peak-end rule. First suggested by Daniel Kahneman, winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize for Economics and the author of the fascinating book Thinking, Fast and Slow, the peak-end rule suggests that we judge experiences largely based on how they were perceived at their peak and at their end.
This implies that we should concentrate on making sure that our events end powerfully. That’s because the peak-end rule implies that we’ll better remember an event with a peak and then a powerful finish than one with two peak experiences sandwiched in the body of the event.
I wonder, though, if we can do better by dividing up the event into multiple, short, distinct experiences. Each experience would have its own peak and concluding learning. I just finished staffing a four-day workshop crammed with a wide variety of unique highly-participative experiences. Because the activities included were so diverse there were many peaks. Each peak stands out in my memory because they were in a unique experiential context. The proof? I still vividly remember much of the first of these workshops that I attended ten years ago!
By including many different kinds of short experiences in our events, I believe it’s possible to hack the peak-end rule and maximize the memorability of our events. What do you think?
Photo attribution: Flickr user mayhem
7 thoughts on “Hack the peak-end rule to maximize conference impact”
Vivid recall of many peaks from a workshop you attended a decade ago is impressive. Love the thought of hacking the peak-end rule, Adrian — chunking down the big event experience into a series of memorable peaks and ends.
The same is true for every speaker at the event. How many end with “OH! That’s my last slide” #lame #fail
Right Ian—it’s not hard for speakers to end on a high note to maximize the impact of their presentation (and also improve attendees overall impression of the event)!
I wrote a whole dissertation proposal about this very topic and why it is important to do further research into the ‘traditional’ conference structure. I found the “rate of change” theory particularly interesting in relation to the event design.
Interesting, Sebastian. Might your proposal turn into a dissertation at some future point? If so, please let us know!
Sadly it turns out that this subject would be too complicated for an undergraduate research project. I opted instead to study the impact of mobile devices on conference delegate’s engagement. I will report back any interesting findings.
Well, that’s an interesting topic too! Yes, please share what you find out.