Design your events with the ‘Peak-End Rule’ in mind

So far in our event series, our posts have focused a lot on technology (the impact of transformative technological change and how to respond; virtual event best practices, and more.) And future posts will certainly continue in the same path. We’re in the business of Marketing Technology after all, and in our digital-first world (with extra push from COVID-19) it’s never been clearer that technology is simply essential in executing the best events possible. But let’s take a step back and put technology aside for just a moment.

LET'S DIVE INTO THE HUMAN PSYCHE

Why is it that we bother with events in the first place? What’s so important about fostering human connections and experiences that people value and feel drawn to?

If we look at what’s at the heart of every event, every marketing campaign, and every lead in our CRM, we’ll find it is one and the same. It’s about people.

If marketers and event planners want any chance at success, then they need to be centering their efforts around people and human experiences.

That’s why aside from technology, this event series is also going to be talking about events management within the context of psychology and behavioural science.

  • What creates positive experiences?
  • How do people decide whether they want to attend or stay at an event?
  • What makes communicating with others easier at gatherings, and why does the mind consider this as important?

These are just a few of an endless amount of questions that “event psychology” can help address. Make sure you’re signed up for future posts to learn more about event psychology and a whole range of other topics!

But for now, let’s start with something simple that you can implement in your event management today: the Peak-End Rule.

WHAT IS THE PEAK-END RULE?

The Peak-End Rule is a theory that was first studied by Nobel Prize-winning psychologist, Dr. Daniel Kahneman. 

It’s a kind of ‘cognitive bias’ – a form of judgement that an individual makes based on their “subjective reality”, or in other words their own personal set of beliefs and experiences (which may not always be reasonable or accurate)

The work of Kahneman and other researchers claim that people largely judge events based on how they experience them at their ‘end’ and at their ‘peak’. Let's try to unpack that idea by talking a little bit about the human brain. 

THE HUMAN BRAIN WHEN IT COMES TO EVENTS

Cognitive biases change the way we remember things. Our brains simply aren’t wired to remember every single detail of every single thing we go through. Instead, our brains try to be more efficient and it creates highlights. It lumps select pieces of past experiences together and packages them into memories – edited and fragmented adaptations of experiences we’ve gone through. And because we lose out on so many details, what then happens in this process is that we tend to remember events differently to how they actually happened. Hence, the Peak-End Rule. 

Unlike the ‘end’ bit, there isn’t a specific time slot reserved for what we refer to as the ‘peak’. The peak can happen in the beginning, the middle, or towards the end. And of course, it differs from person to person. What the peak simply refers to is what is perceived as the most “emotionally hard-hitting” moment. As an event professional, these are the moments to try and create and spread out – to give different people a wide range of potential ‘peaks’ to internalize.

“When we look back on an event, we don’t take all of the moments we’ve experienced and then average them. [Instead, we are] biased to remember the peak moments of emotional intensity — the strongest moments, positive or negative — as well as the end of the event.” 

— Charlotte Blank, Behavioral Scientist and Chief Behavioral Officer at Maritz

For example, if you attend a webinar where the sound and video quality are poor and the topics are poorly introduced, then that’s not a promising start. But if somewhere along the way the host is able to share a deeply emotional story that inspires you (the peak), and then at the end publicly praises you or your company for so and so achievements, then your memory of the experience will ultimately be positive. 

In an alternative sense, if an attendee happens to have a negative peak experience with one of your staff, or something suddenly goes wrong at the tail-end of your event, then they could walk away processing the experience in its entirety as a total wreck.   

TWO TYPES OF SELVES

Kahneman's research adds on to the peak-end phenomenon by distinguishing two types of “selves”: the ‘experiencing self’ who is actually living in the moment, and the ‘remembering self’ who looks back and ‘re-narrates’ it. Re-narration happens when the mind collects and reviews past experiences (which we now know are most memorable in the form of ‘peaks’ and ‘ends’), and then edits them together to form memories. Again, our cognitive biases will work to change the way we remember our experiences.

But... What exactly does that mean for you? 

KEY TAKEAWAYS

For event professionals, you may not have control over an individual’s cognitive biases, but you do have control over how you plan and market your event. Here are some key things to takeaway for your next event: 

  • Make sure you always finish strong.
  • Consider how different ‘peaks’ can manifest for a range of different personas.
  • Litter your event with plenty of opportunities for audiences to be wow-ed by positive and emotionally hard-hitting moments.
  • Design according to not just your attendees’ ‘experiencing selves’, but also for their ‘remembering selves'.

If you want to read about more tips, best practices, and psychological underpinnings all about the events space then be sure to sign up to our series and check out our other posts here!

About the Author

Kyra Albano

Amsterdam-based MarTech consultant passionate about the optimisation of technology, cross-cultural communications, and business strategy towards a better future. When I’m not busy working I love to to surf, write, and explore all sorts of new places!

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