End on Peak Experience


We all know the importance of making a good first impression, but persuasion scientists tell us that people are deeply influenced by last impressions too. That’s why it’s worth the effort to carefully craft the way you close a speech or presentation.

For years I’ve encouraged people who attend my workshops to take advantage of the rule of recency. According to that rule, an audience tends to remember best and longest the information they hear at the end of a talk. But Steve J. Martin and the co-authors of The Small Big: Small Changes That Spark Big Influence suggest another tool speechwriters can use to heighten persuasion. It’s called the peak experience effect.

According to Martin and friends, amplifying the high points of a situation at or near the end of an interaction can exert enormous influence over future decisions. Rock bands take advantage of this theory, for example, by playing their biggest hits at the end of a concert, leaving fans with a warm and fuzzy feeling. Hotels do the same when they place a chocolate on your pillow, ending the day on a sweet note.

By the same token, making your listeners feel good, exciting their imaginations or giving them a sensory treat in the closing minutes of your talk can influence their thoughts and actions in the future.

So, think peak experience, and be sure to place it at or near the end of your talk. Here are three steps you can take to turn theory into practice:

• No matter how grim the news or uncertain the future, find a ray of sunshine to focus on as you close. In other words, leave people with a sense of hope rather than despair.
• If you have presented options, highlight the pain point of the ones you want the audience to discount, and then re-present, in the most favourable light, the option you want them to choose.
• Give the audience a gift, perhaps in the form of a surprise ending to a story that you started earlier, or a checklist people can use to assess a situation, or a compelling image you want them to conjure up every time they think of the subject you discussed with them.