Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Peak-end rule and presentations

Noble prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman coined a phrase: the “peak/end rule” to describe how we remember things (I’m sure I am drastically over-simplifying it.):
  • What we remember about the pleasurable quality of our past experience is largely determined by: (1) How the experience felt at their peak, (2) How the experience felt when they ended
  • We use this to summarize the experience.
  • Then rely on that summary later to remind ourselves how we felt.
  • These summaries, in turn, influence our future decisions.
This suggests some ideas for avoiding dull presentations (or at least presentations that people will remember as not being dull):
  • Include interactive elements in your presentation – places where information passes both ways (not just from the presenter to the audience).
  • Tell interesting stories. People remember stories more than facts, so it might be worth it to polish a few good (and relevant to the topic) ones.
  • Start strong. Studies suggest a speaker has 30-90 seconds to get the audience’s attention, so don't waste it by ramping up – get right into it.
  • Finish strong. Save something for the end. If Q&A is at the end, consider a 2-minute prepared closing that leaves the energy high, instead of fizzling out when no one has any more questions.

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