We invest a lot in hellos. The opening lines of a speech, the first few slides in a presentation deck, the let’s-get-to-know-each-other phase of a new client relationship all command the sort of meticulous planning and attention that Hollywood directors devote to plotting opening scenes of James Bond movies.
Endings rarely get the same love. After launching with the fireworks of a sizzling intro, we fade out all too often with a distracted, “Well, I guess that’s my time…”
But how we say goodbye matters. Endings represent an important psychological moment in a relationship. They help us reaffirm — or even recalibrate — the connection we work so hard to establish with our killer openings. Done well, they leave an audience feeling happy, confident and wanting more. Handled poorly, they leave audiences feeling underwhelmed at best, neglected at worst.
Picture this: You’re paying off your mortgage and feel a sense of elation as you hand over the big fat final payment that marks the end of your long — at times tortured — relationship with the bank. The teller takes it with a bored smile and no acknowledgment of how special the moment is. Do you want to still do business with that bank? (This actually happened. And no, we don’t.)
Nobel-prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman talked about how endings shape our experiences in a 2010 TED talk, citing recent research that involved patients undergoing colonoscopies. Patients who experienced intense pain during their exam complained about it less if it peaked early and the intensity trended downward. Because the exam ended well, they remembered the experience more favourably.
Disney’s crowd-pleasing Imagineers understand the importance of happy endings, which is why they engineer what they call a “kiss goodnight” at Disney resorts. It might be a spectacular fireworks display at the end of the day that makes parents forget they’ve just spent seven hours with a wailing, whiny kid, or hugs and a photo op with Mickey. The point is to create an unforgettable moment that turns a mundane experience into a longlasting memory.
How can the rest of us engineer a kiss goodnight?
Think about ending presentations and reports with something that inspires and delights. Remind a client of how far they’ve come on their journey.
Offer a glimpse of where they could head next.
Tell them why you appreciate working with them.
And if all else fails, unleash puppies. That’s what a crew from Fast Company did at a recent SXSW presentation: To end a talk on designing happy experiences, they released a pack of baby Golden Retriever-Labs into the crowd. Sure, it was a cute gimmick, but it’s not a bad metaphor for thinking about endings: No one forgets a big slobbering smooch from a puppy.