Priceless Event Timing Strategies from Dan Pink

event timing

Post authored by Donna Kastner, Event Marketing Consultant

Many have heard about the best-selling book by Dan Pink: WHEN: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.  (If this title is new to you, this post provides a quick recap.)

This past week, hundreds of event executives attending Maritz Global Events’s e4 conference in Anaheim were treated to WHEN takeaways, carefully tailored for the events industry by keynoter Dan Pink.

Yes, Dan Pink applied the science of WHEN to our world and the takeaways were fascinating with actionable takeaways for event organizers. His talk kicked off with three key findings:

  1. Our cognitive abilities don’t remain static over the course of a day.
    In any given day, most people move through three phases: The Peak, which for most people happens during the morning hours, when analytical skills are at their highest. The Trough, that dreaded mid-day segment when our mood and concentration dips sharply. And the Recovery, which happens later in the afternoon for most of us, when we’re primed for creative thinking and brainstorming.
  2. These daily fluctuations are more extreme than we realize.
    Pink recommends that we need to be more intentional in scheduling activities to sync with cognitive abilities during these three stages – both in our workdays and at our events.
  3. The best time to perform a task depends on the nature of the task.
    Again, analytical, deep-dive thinking is best in the morning. Creative thinking works best in the late afternoon. As for that perilous mid-day Trough? A break might be your best choice.

event timing

The Power of Breaks

Better breaks make for better events, but once again, we need to be more intentional in how we design these breaks and when we schedule these. Pink shared a series of stories that underscored how even short breaks can elevate our moods substantially.

Here’s what the research tells us about breaks…

  • Moving beats stationary
  • Social beats solo
  • Outside beats inside
  • Fully-detached (no devices) beats semi-detached

C-suite executives don’t always grasp the value of breaks for event guests. People at the top often see breaks as a deviation or as a period when you’re not delivering value, but breaks are an integral part of the event guest journey. Thanks to Pink, we now have the scientific evidence to enlighten them.

event timing

Short Fuses Outperform Long Fuses

Much like life, there’s an episodic rhythm and flow to events. They have a clear beginning, a mid-point, and an ending. As we move through each segment of the event journey, our brains are attuned to notice and appreciate different things.

Pink focused most of his talk on endings, as these have the greatest capacity to energize and engage our event guests. One story he shared was a study of the use of gift cards. In this study, members of one group were each given a $100 gift card that would expire in three weeks. A second group was given $100 gift cards with a longer fuse – they had up to two months to redeem their gift cards.

Which group do you think had the higher redemption rate?

Most people say the second group, because they had more time – but most people would be wrong.

For the group with the three-week deadline, 31% redeemed their gift cards. For the group who had two months (the luxury of more time), only 6% redeemed their gift cards.

The big takeaway (aside from gift cards leave a lot of dollars on the table and are a boon for retailers): When endings are salient and visible (shorter time span), people tend to kick in harder and activate. In other words, shorter decision fuses tend to spark more action than longer ones.

When endings are salient and visible (shorter time span), people tend to kick in harder and activate. Click To Tweet

Now think about this in the context of event registration. When early-bird deadlines loom and registration is lighter than anticipated, what do we often do? We extend the deadline, but as we take a closer look at the research, we need to rethink that extension. Deadline extensions are more apt to have a negative impact on registrations and revenue.

event timing

The Good News/Bad News Paradox

Another fascinating takeaway from Pink touches on a phrase many of us have uttered…

“I have good news and bad news…”

While most people sharing mixed news prefer to start with the good news, the science tells us the exact opposite order is a better strategy.

The science tells us that four out of five people want to hear the bad news first. Why? People prefer to end an experience (or a conversation) on a rising sequence – not a declining one. Keep in mind, declining isn’t just about bad news… it’s also about less interesting (boring) news.

Now think about the last message that’s often delivered from the stage at the end of a session– or even at the end of a closing keynote, just before everyone heads home.

If the words housekeeping, surveys, luggage pickup or airport shuttles are part of your closing script, you need a drastic rewrite, because you’re failing to capitalize on this craving for a rising sequence.

event timing

The Last Chocolate

Pink supported this rising sequence dynamic with another great story. This time it was about Hershey’s and a chocolate taste test they conducted with college students.

For one group of students, they were given a first chocolate to taste and rate. Then another. Then another. Then another. Then another. For this first group, they had no idea how many chocolates they’d be asked to taste.

For a second group of taste testers, they ran a similar drill with one exception. Before giving these students the fifth chocolate, they said, “Here’s the last chocolate.”

Now let’s look at how these groups rated the chocolates. For both groups, there was no statistically significant difference in the ratings they gave for the first four chocolates. But for the students who were told this would be the last chocolate? The ratings for that last chocolate were much higher.

Again, this supports our strong appetite for rising sequence. When students were told this would be the last chocolate, they kicked in harder and in turn, rated the last one more favorably. By the way, it’s important to note that all chocolates given to both groups were the same – more proof that sequence matters.

Pink did a masterful job of modeling a strong ending with his own keynote closer – a powerful recap with five big takeaways for meetings and events executives:

  1. Shine a light on endings to energize yourself and others.
  2. Consider short fuses rather than long fuses.
  3. Always give the bad news first.
  4. Highlight the last chocolate.
  5. Use endings as meaning makers.
This entry was posted in Event Design, Meeting Planning and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.