Recently, I heard a tale of a wealthy chap who nearly always left his vacations early.

He’d stay until he was confident that he’d just had the best possible day, then he’d change his flight, pack up, and leave. It didn’t matter if snorkeling with turtles was on the agenda for tomorrow. He’d toss the itinerary in the trash — and go home.

Whether he knew it or not, his habit is grounded in sound psychology: a little phenomenon known as the peak-end rule.

  • Peak-end rule: Your rating of an experience after it happens (and the pleasure or pain with which you remember it) is largely determined by two moments: the experience’s emotional peak and its end.

Whether it’s a painful medical procedure, a key sales call, or a month in the Bahamas, your “remembering” brain won’t really care how long it lasted. It will overlook the sum of your joy or suffering in favor of something much easier to compute: the average of the most intense moment and the last one.

In this piece, I’ll offer three ways that you (and other business leaders) can incorporate this phenomenon into your work. If you find any of these takeaways particularly compelling, I encourage you to stop reading at once. My hope is that, by cutting your stay short, you might remember this piece as fondly as our wealthy friend remembers his truncated vacations.

Let’s get on with it.

1. Find Your Yellow-Bellied Warbler

Last year, in the midst of a rewarding brand evolution process, our team had an important presentation. I’ve forgotten every word from that meeting, save for one sentence:

“May many a yellow-bellied warbler alight upon your windowsill.”

These words were spoken by the man, the myth, the burrito-eating legend Johnmark Rantal. In the first few seconds of our call, as participants’ faces popped up on Zoom, Johnmark noticed that our client’s profile picture was not that of a stereotypical serious, results-driven professional — it was a bird.

When he inquired about it, we learned that this bird was a yellow-bellied warbler (pictured below), a delightful species that our client was particularly passionate about. Banter and chuckles were exchanged, then the meeting began.

Sixty minutes later, after our presentation had wrapped up, Johnmark delivered the perfect bookend: “May many a yellow-bellied warbler alight upon your windowsill.”

Just like that, Johnmark nailed the peak-end rule.

His comment created an emotional high for the audience. By doing so, he sugarcoated the memory of the meeting in their minds, improving the likelihood that they’d be receptive to his suggestions.

And guess what?

Our client didn’t just love the presentation. They loved the entire process, and the brand evolution was a triumph.

yellow warbler - bird
They see me warblin’


Your yellow-bellied warbler doesn’t have to be a spur-of-the-moment joke. It can take many forms: a concept in a content piece, a hook in a LinkedIn ad, a powerful point in a sales meeting, or a neatly packaged epiphany surfaced by primary research.

It doesn’t have to be at the end, either. It might come a few seconds in, halfway through, or in the waning moments. (Remember: The emotional peak and the ending matter (more or less) equally — and they don’t have to overlap!)

But if you want to significantly boost your odds of success, you must have one.

Next time you head into a meeting or hover over the “publish” button on a post, ask yourself: What’s my yellow-bellied warbler? What’s the indelible thing in your piece, pitch, or proposal that your audience will have no choice but to remember?

If you don’t have one, it’s back to the drawing board. If you do, you’re already on the road to victory.

If you’re pleased with this takeaway, I invite you to stop reading now. Here’s the burbling of a warbler to see you out. Cheerio!

2. Just Say “No” to “So, Um…Yeah”

My middle school colleagues and I were chronically afflicted by the tendency to end every speech with the following phrase:

“So, um…yeah.”

So, um…yeah-s can take many forms. Many people (myself included) don’t leave them behind — we just graduate them into something that feels more professional. Something like:

  • That, in a nutshell, is our strategic recommendation for the next quarter.
  • We look forward to enacting these plans with you.
  • Thank you for your time and attention!

Conclusions like these are not as benign as they seem.

Because our brains place a premium on endings, a milquetoast final moment may render milquetoast the memory of your whole presentation. Can you imagine if Mr. Jobs had torpedoed the iPhone reveal with a so, um…yeah?

On the other hand, concluding a high-stakes meeting with a bang will elevate your audience’s experience of the entire meeting (in the same way that a creative 404 page can transform dismay into delight). For that reason, I’d encourage you to know exactly what you’re going to say in the last minute of your meeting. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.

Improvising the first 99% is a-ok. But you need to end with fireworks. And nothing goes with fireworks quite like funnel cake. Mmmm.

funnel cake
The most unashamedly “American” German food in the world

3. Get Your Claws Out

Studies on the peak-end phenomenon (coupled with its cousin duration neglect) have made one thing crystal clear: short experiences are often equally, if not more, impactful than long ones.

If you’ve ever felt pressured to extend a presentation, product demo, LinkedIn post, or content piece for the sake of your audience: Don’t. They’ll thank you for it.

Get your claws out and cut through the fluff. Be as precise and ferocious as a wolverine.

Speaking of wolverines, here’s everybody’s favorite Australian.

Hugh Jackman
Huge Ackman in a happy state

Last Chance!

If you’re still reading, I’d like to formally apologize for failing to wow you. Be warned: Solemnity awaits, so if you’d like to leave in a happy mood, do so now!




Now that we glum few are all that remain, let’s take a moment to honor the gentleman who’s largely responsible for the discovery and popularization of the peak-end rule (and a whole trove of massively impactful breakthroughs in behavioral economics), Nobel Prize-winning scholar Daniel Kahneman.

In his towering work Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman (who died a few weeks ago on March 27th) relays the following story:

“A comment I heard from a member of the audience after a lecture illustrates the difficulty of distinguishing memories from experiences. 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?” (Thinking, Fast and Slow 381). 

Our bias toward peaks and endings comes at a cost. We’re quick to allow positive experiences to be diminished by a less-than-great ending. And that’s not good.

A wonderful vacation shouldn’t be ruined by a disappointing last day. A productive debate shouldn’t be ruined by a frustrating final point. And a beautiful symphony shouldn’t be ruined by a few scratches in the waning seconds.

While we can use the peak-end phenomenon to our advantage in the business world, we can also seek to overcome its undesirable side effects in our personal lives. So, if you enjoyed this piece thus far but you’re not a fan of how things are wrapping up, just remember: a bad ending shouldn’t erase all the very real good that came before.

Here’s to appreciating the symphony as it plays. Now get out of here!

Magneti aims to be the most effective and innovative growth marketing team in Colorado.