I’ve been reading “The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact,” and I’m finding it relevant to those of us in the industry who are passionate about event design. The authors, brothers Chip and Dan Heath, explore the “peak-end rule,” a cognitive science theory that suggests our brains take a shortcut when sorting through and processing past events. The brain focuses on the most intense moment (the peak) and the ending point to shape our long-term memory of the experience.
Remember the connect-the-dots coloring pages from childhood? They have a lot in common with the way our minds process past events. Memories are not perfect pictures of our life experiences. Instead, they’re more like a sequence of key moments that connect to form our lasting impression of an event.
As event designers, we want to create peak moments that are memorable to attendees for years to come. The book is full of examples, and it got me thinking, “What makes a peak moment and how do we create them?”
Incorporate Novelty to Form Peak Moments
Pairing the peak-end rule with the brain-changing science of novel experiences, event designers can supercharge the brand message’s staying power. That’s because novelty is known to imprint an experience on your mental highlight reel. (Thanks, dopamine!) Everyone remembers their first kiss, right? But what about the 50th?
Novelty within an event might look like those “never in my wildest dreams” opportunities that could only happen with help (for example, a private viewing of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper during an incentive trip to Milan). In the book, the Heaths outline four factors that create peak moments. Experience designers can strategically incorporate novelty alongside one or more of the factors to successfully use “peaks” in their events.
Moments of surprise and delight that transcend a generally pleasant atmosphere. They “break the script” from what’s expected and can happen at the crescendo of an event arc, or in thoughtful touches.
Imagine a sumptuous dinner within the Liechtenstein City Palace. Guests arrive in horse-drawn carriages. Beautiful florals abound. While serving the meal, singers from the Vienna Boys Choir slowly make their way to the dining room for a private performance. Between the music, the menu and the aromas, all the senses are engaged. (Since smell and memory are known to be deeply intertwined
, sensory appeal serves as a reminder of an experience.)
Moments of courage and achievement, often recognized by others, capture us at our best.
Novel Idea: Introduce an opportunity attendees wouldn’t be able to create on their own. Offer an optional outdoor adventure that ties into the event’s overall storyline. For example, hut-hopping in the Austrian Alps or a scuba-diving excursion add-on could help ensure attendees leave on a triumphant note.
Moments where we experience a revelation—sometimes delivered in an instant—change our understanding of ourselves and our perception of the world.
Invite keynotes that go beyond being the “sage on the stage” and encourage attendees to share, too. For instance, bringing in Dear World
as a keynote helps participants dig deep into a story until they can distill it into a few words. They call this a “brain tattoo,” and photograph people after they’ve written their personal phrase on their arms. The images are a testament to their strength of character and a reflection of who they are on the inside.
Moments that satisfy our need to belong to something bigger than ourselves. Purpose unites us with others around a shared goal and mission, creating something greater than the individual parts involved.
Novel Idea: Leverage the welcome reception to get people mingling from the get-go. If there is a traditional give-back experience that consistently ranks high for attendees, disrupt expectations and tie it to the kickoff. This is a great way to get attendee do-gooders’ endorphins going and encourage them to mingle around something meaningful. One idea could be creating a paint-by-number mural on the side of a nonprofit headquarters. Everyone could contribute some color, and then step back to admire their collective impact. (Of course, a photo of the finished product would look perfect on a follow-up postcard.)
End on a High Note
When working on experience design, keep the purposeful peak top of mind without losing focus on attendees’ final moments.
Always strive to send attendees away on a high note. Incorporate elements that lift their spirits. And seal the experience with a positive memory they’ll recall with a smile.
Novelty is just one of the key influences that invigorate attendees. Download our ebook to learn more about how cognitive science can influence immersive event design.