Is the end of an event important?

end event importantIs the end of an event important?

It’s complicated.

10 years ago, I wrote about how to create especially memorable events. Including many different kinds of short experiences during our meetings, allows us to hack the peak-end rule to maximize the impact of an event on attendees.

Here’s what I said…

…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.
Hack the peak-end rule to maximize conference impact, April 2013

So, clearly, we should ensure that events end with a “powerful finish”, so they’ll be especially memorable.


Well, maybe not.

What can we learn from professional speakers?

Think about good professional speakers for a moment. They know about the peak-end rule. Professional speakers invariably include one or more peak moments during their presentation, and end powerfully. They do this to be memorable.

Good professional speakers have an emotional impact, which makes them memorable. But, as I’ve written elsewhere, there’s no guarantee you’ll learn anything more from them than a “poor” presenter covering the same content.

The danger of focusing on a powerful event ending

There’s nothing wrong with employing a powerful event ending to make it memorable.

Unless—we do so at the expense of making the entire event not only memorable but also useful.

Because memorability is great while it lasts. But it actually isn’t usually important in the long term.

What is important is that the entire event ends up satisfying stakeholders’ goals and objectives as much as possible.

Here’s Seth Godin’s take on the danger of what he calls the focus on the last thing:

“…We focus on the thing that happened just before the end. And that’s almost always an unimportant moment.

Things went wrong (or things went right) because of a long series of decisions and implementations…

When you get to the thing before the last thing, don’t sweat it. It’s almost certainly too late to make the outcome change. On the other hand, when you’re quietly discussing the thing before that before that before that before that, it might pay to bring more attention to it than the circumstances seem to demand. Because that’s the key moment.”

—Seth Godin, The focus on the last thing

So, is the end of an event important?

The answer is yes.

And, so is everything that leads up to it!

To make an event maximally useful and productive, concentrate on its conference arc rather than a grand climax.

That’s the way to create a truly memorable event for everyone involved.

Unquestioned traditional conference assumption #4: Conferences are best ended with some event that will hopefully convince attendees to stay to the end.

Four assumptions #4 FinnishHow to end a conference? Trainings and conferences that professionals must attend to maintain certification can close with the triumphant presentation of certificates of completion or attendance, but other traditional conferences have no such obvious conclusion. All too often, the conference finale is manufactured: an awards ceremony, a closing keynote, a fancy dinner, a raffle, a celebrity speaker, or some combination thereof.

The reason for this artificiality is simple: Traditional conferences that are not training-oriented don’t provide any kind of progression through their theme. The sequence of session topics is guided by logistical, political, and speaker availability considerations, rather than logical flow. One session doesn’t follow from another. Such a conference doesn’t have a beginning; how can we expect it to have an end?

Some conferences dispense with the pretense of closure. This at least is honest, though the effect of “transmit content, go home” is somewhat blunt.

In contrast, peer conferences provide a progression, not through content, but through process designed to increase attendee connections as the conference proceeds. Two closing spective sessions, personal and group, build on the generated intimacy to provide a powerful and appropriate conference ending.

Image attribution: / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0