In 1933 Hedwigg von Restorff did an infamous experiment to discover an effect which was eventually named after her (“von Restorff effect” or “isolation” effect). She handed participants of the study a sheet of paper with sets of letters on it. It was completely random sets of three letters each, which at some point included a set of numbers. So it looked like that:
bgu, dwa, pkl, 396, yft, jyo
And then she asked them to recall the items.
An amazing finding of the study (which has since been widely leveraged) was that people were much more likely to remember the items that were different from the rest (in this case it was a set of three numbers, but further research showed that is true for whatever stands out).
That made me think that oftentimes, when planning an event, we copy what others do. I guess the reasons are a) we follow the trends b) we want to improve our own event by implementing the best practices c) we fall victim to status-quo: if something has proved to be working well, why change that?
And it seems to be reasonable – at least, two of the reasons are pretty justifiable. Yet, the isolation effect shows us that to really stand out and get stick in one’s memory – which is the primary reason why attendees would come back to your event – we don’t need to be exactly better than competitors. While fine-tuning and improving event design is no doubt what we want to pursue, to make a difference we would need to do something differently. Musical keynote? Fascinatingly weird topics? Stunning concept? Leveraging event psychology tools to provide a lasting impact? There are many ways to get in the spotlight and most important, stay there. As Sally Hogshead famously put it, ‘different is better than better’.
In the context of our industry – I’d say, the goal is not to get better in designing events, but to do it differently.
Would you dare to be different?