How to rescue a very public disaster (using my favourite psych fact)

Standing in the booth, looking out at the ten people awkwardly dancing in a space that was built for 400, I felt sick.

I’m about to tell you one of the most important pieces of information I know. Then I’m going to tell you the rest of that story in order to prove it’s true and to help you hold it in your brain (because that’s what storytelling does!).

Here’s the fact:

The most important parts of any talk, blog, presentation or podcast is:

1) The last part,

followed by,

2) The first part.

Why? Because, when we experience something, we remember best the beginning of and the end of it and often very little of the middle. We then extrapolate our whole experience from those two parts. This means that it almost doesn’t matter what happens in the middle.

This is called the Primacy/Recency Effect (or sometimes, the Serial Position Effect).
The Recency Effect is a bit stronger than the Primacy Effect.
There’s a bunch of science on it here and here, but what it means to YOU is:

You must spend a LOT of time working on the end of your thing. And a lot of time on the beginning.

Here’s a graph to illustrate it:

(Source)

And here’s a story — the one I started up top:

Walking through the giant hall in my fancy black dress and red glittery heels, large, unwieldy backpack on my shoulder, I thought, This is going to be so EASY.

Back when I was a radio presenter, I used sometimes to DJ to rooms full of people. I was pretty good at it. It was just indie music — I wasn’t beat-matching or anything — but I knew how and when to play particular songs to get a crowd on the dance-floor and thrilled that they were there.

One time, I was booked to DJ a 45 minute set at a radio awards show. Present were all the people who looked up to me, all my peers and all my heroes, but I wasn’t worried. By the time I walked over the DJ booth, I knew that everyone was already tanked up on free booze, either in a great mood because they won, or drowning their sorrows because they didn’t.

I loved DJing gigs like this

I said hi the the DJ who was on before me as he moved his records over, and I flopped out my two big books full of case-less CDs. I started flipping through them to find my first song. I already knew what it was, because I knew about the Primacy/Recency Effect, so I always planned my first record (Primacy) and my last three records (Recency — slightly stronger).

I found it, stuck it in the CD player, gave it a “pre-fade listen” on the headphones and told the other guy I was ready. He stepped aside and I pulled the fader over and hit play. The 400 people on the full dance-floor gave a huge cheer. Shooting fish in a barrel, I thought.

Over the course of the next half an hour, I proceeded to bomb.

Not be the bomb — but to tank. Every record I put on, more and more people would flee the dance-floor. It was like I had reverse-magic touch. None of my usual trusty songs were working.

Looking out at the ten people who were awkwardly dancing in a space that was built for 400 — and was very publicly in the middle of the hall, where everyone at the event could see — I felt sick. All the people who look up to me, all my peers and all my heroes.

Finally, it came to my last ten minutes and my last three records. When I pre-planned them, I always used the same formula: big hit from the last few months; classic-but-unexpected old school banger; and whatever the biggest song of the moment was.

I put on the big hit from the last few months. A small cheer went up, and about 50 people came back onto the dance-floor. Ok. This is marginally less humiliating.

Then I put on the classic old school banger. A slightly bigger cheer went up, and about 150 people ran onto the dance-floor. Half-full. Definitely respectable. Ok, phew.

Then I went to put on my last record. And I’d always do a thing where I’d leave just enough of a gap that they could start a thought, but not quite finish it before the next thought came along, so they’d think,

She’s forgotten to put on a record!
—Wait, no she hasn’t!
—And it’s THIS ONE!!!!!!!!!!!!

A GIANT cheer rises up from the room and 200 people come back onto the dance-floor.

I’m ending strong. I’m leaving the next DJ a good crowd. As I step away, I feel the flush of relief.

Here’s the best part:

For the rest of the night — and this has happened to me multiple times, and has happened to every DJ I know. For the rest of the night, people came up to me and said,

“Marsha!!! Your DJ set was AMAZING!!!!”

It wasn’t. It stunk.

But the first 10 minutes was good. And the last ten minutes were good. And that’s all that mattered.

Next time you’re putting together a talk, blog, sales page or anything else, I want you to remember this. Spend some time on the beginning. Spend a lot of time on the end. Then the middle can take care of itself.

(And if you’d like some help with that, I’d love to. Find out how you can work with me, here: yesyesmarsha.com/workwithme)

 

Have you ever had this happen to you? Or can you now think of something you saw that wasn’t actually not that good but that you thought was good because of what happened at the end? Let me know in the comments below! Thank you so much for reading. If you know anyone who is about to do something very public who needs to hear this, you can share this with them using one of the round buttons below.

You rule!

xx (Yes Yes) Marsha

 

PS want tips, stories and secrets that I won’t put on the internet (and my guide for the magic bullet when it comes to telling stories? Come and join the Yes Yes Family. It’s free! Just pop your details in below:

 

Photo by Ítalo Almeida on Unsplash

8 Comments

  • Julia

    Reply Reply February 19, 2020

    Hi Marsha, I DID read this when you first sent it out (or maybe later because I don’t do email in realtime), and it reminded me of how meh the ending is on one of the workshop sessions I run, and that even though I know better I haven’t fixed it. And then I remembered another workshop I’m writing, and I added “STRONG ENDING” to my notes as a reminder, then went down a rabbithole refining ideas for that workshop and that’s why I didn’t reply.

    Worst thing about this? The session I’m writing is about how to be an awesome tech presenter, and one of the topics I’ll cover is not ending on Q&A because it’s not usually a strong ending. If you hear on the news about a woman in London facepalming herself to death, that’ll be me.

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Reply Reply February 19, 2020

      hahaha amazing!! Glad to hear STRONG ENDING is on your notes.

      Re Q&A, if there must be one (and I think they can often be powerful) I always advise clients to write a little 2 minute power ending to say afterwards, and to make sure they tell the moderator/presenter that they have this (and be prepared to interrupt and remind them if they need to!),

      Good luck finishing the writing!

      xxyyM

  • Emily D Harman

    Reply Reply February 19, 2020

    Thank you Marsha! I am working on a few presentations and this is very helpful!

    Emily

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Reply Reply February 19, 2020

      Aw, thanks, Emily! It’s also great for if you eff up a bit in the middle, no one will remember 🙂

      xxyyM

  • Michelle Sokolich

    Reply Reply February 19, 2020

    This is so great Marsha!!! I will never forget this!! Amazing blog thank you 🙂

  • Catherine Cerulli

    Reply Reply February 20, 2020

    As always, M, spot on. A great story illustrating both the research and your point.Thank you for this brilliant reminder.

    Want to come DJ my 50th high school class reunion?

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Reply Reply February 20, 2020

      Thanks, Catherine!

      And IN MY DREAMS!!!!

      (as long as you don’t mind 30 mins of me bombing)

      xxyyM

Leave A Response

* Denotes Required Field