What’s important in a Presentation? Peaks and Endings

Two patients get colonoscopies.

No, this isn't a joke. The first takes half the time that the second one does. The first has a short period of high pain at the end of the procedure. The second has a longer stretch of high pain in the middle. We know because every single minute they had to rate their pain during the procedure.

If you look at the chart, it's clear that patient A had less overall pain, for a shorter procedure. But at the end of the process, patient A rated it an 8/10. Patient B rated it a 4/10.

It seems insane, doesn't it? That even though patient A spent very little time up at a level of 8, he'd remember the entire procedure as an 8. And that patient B would think it was a 4, even though he spent a considerable and sustained time above that pain level.

Don't believe me? Check this video out.

How we remember things

It turns out that the research is in – we remember events by two things. The first is the high point. In the case above, it was the highest level of pain. The second is how things end. And that's how we realize why patient A and B had such different ratings from their realities.

How does this relate to you and I?

It should impact how you craft your next presentation. We ought to be focused on our presentation's peaks and endings.

Peaks and Endings

When I put together a presentation I know people will hear the beginning and the end. That much I know.

Everything in between is up for grabs. If I create enough contrast to bring them back to attention (a topic for another post), then I get the chance to have them pay attention again. If I don't, they're off balancing their checkbooks.

But since I know I get the first few minutes, I work hard at starting right. But now I'm telling you that you have to put the same effort into your closing. And working to find that peak.

5 Ways to End

I can't help that sometimes when I speak, people think I'm about to give an altar call. But I'd like to share with you 5 ways to end in a memorable way.

End with a story
A lot of times I wrap up a presentation by sharing the story of someone who's taken the journey I've been talking about and found success, freedom and their hopes all realized. It suggests that my audience can do the same.

End with a request to meet
Sometimes I'll invite people to come up afterwards and meet with me. I want to hear their story and answer their questions. This just formalizes what often happens anyway.

End with a call to commitment
Sometimes I invite everyone to raise their hand and join with me in making a decision to do (or not do) something. It's simple but requires they participate, which locks in their sense of how a talk challenged them.

End with a giveaway
If I've spent time talking about something, and I have a resource that goes with it, I'll invite people to tweet something, post something, or text something. Then I'll pick a winner and give them the resource for free. It creates anticipation even after I've ended.

End making them the hero
Sometimes your own audience can be the hero of the story if you set things up right. I once witnessed a speaker invite us all to text a message to an ill child, only then to have them reveal the powerful impact it was having.

Notice something?

Notice I didn't say summarize all your bullet points? Boring.

Talks aren't great at information transfer. So if you're doing a talk thinking that you're going to pass on a lot of great info, guess again. Most people forget a talk within 24 hours of it being given. In many cases, it's actually forgotten within 60 minutes.

So if they're not great for information transfer, what are they good for?

They're great motivators. Done right, they can instill hope and the catalyst for personal change. But that's driven off an emotional charge, not information exchange.

So whatever you do – focus on the emotional side of your message and drive towards not only a peak, but a really great ending.