Shakespeare was sort of right. All's well that ends well. But the opposite is true, too. If the ending sucks, it all sucked.
At least, that's how everyone will remember it. Sucky.
Remember this rule when you're putting together a presentation, a pitch, or a meeting with a client. The whole event, minute by minute, needs to be good and attention-worthy. But you MUST stick the landing if you want to be remembered well.
It's called the Peak-End Rule, and, as far as I know, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman invented it. Well, he didn't invent it--it's evolutionary. Kahneman named it. Kahneman also gave a great example, which I'll recount best I can.
Better yet, I'll just copy and past it from his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. Speaking of a friend, Kahneman writes:
He told of listening raptly to a long symphony on a disc that was scratched near the end, producing a shocking sound, and he reported that the bad ending “ruined the whole experience.” But the experience was not actually ruined, only the memory of it. The experiencing self had had an experience that was almost entirely good, and the bad end could not undo it, because it had already happened. My questioner had assigned the entire episode a failing grade because it had ended very badly, but that grade effectively ignored 40 minutes of musical bliss. Does the actual experience count for nothing?
How often we ignore this basic fact. How often assume that we'll be graded on the whole of our performance when, in fact, the final few seconds of our show will determine how the audience remembers the experience.
Fair? Hell no! But it's the way people are wired.
I'll be honest: I screw this up all the time. I don't put enough effort into sticking the landing. I usually start of strong. That's important, because you don't want to lose the audience or your prospect early. And the middle parts are good. But I don't always put hard effort into a killer close.
Here's a formula for changing all that.
- Before you plan anything, decide how you want the audience to feel when they leave.
Think of experiences that left you feeling that way. Do you want your audience scared? How does Stephen King drive people to sleep with the lights on? Want them to leave curious? How does Malcolm Gladwell drive people to dig deeper and deeper into arcane subjects? Want them to leave laughing? How did George Carlin use callbacks to close leave his audiences in stitches?
Plot the emotional rollarcoaster that will end with that emotion. It's very difficult (and risky) to jolt your audience from passive relaxation to sheer, heart-stopping terror in one second. Whatever your closing emotion and intensity might be, you need lead the audience there. If you want to end with curiosity and intensity of 8 on a 10 scale, you need to start them at about 3 and build up over a few minutes.
By now, you're probably convinced that you gotta leave 'em laughing. Or feeling something. Writing a good closing line isn't enough, so pay attention to number 3.
Have you ever been in a bad mood and had someone try to cheer you up? Does it work? No. When someone tries to be all giggly at you, you just add that person to the list of things pissing you off.
So you can't have a static close. Well, you can, but you need to read the audiences mood before you deliver it. If you're shooting for laughing with an intensity of 8 and the audience's mood is angry with an intensity of 10, you need bring down their intensity (try self-deprecation), then shift the mood (try a story with a happy ending), then start building up to your ROFLOL climax.
And if all else fails, offer to buy everybody a new car. It works for Oprah.