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Notre Dame, The Crimson Tide, and The Importance of Recency

There’s a meeting that will take place after the one you just ran. It will convene in the restrooms, at the water cooler, or in someone’s office down the hall. That second meeting will feature only one agenda item – “what was the first meeting really about?”

Notre Dame AlabamaIt is this second meeting that will determine the success of the first. The effect of your planning of the first meeting — the carefully crafted remarks, the written agenda, perhaps even the PowerPoint — will pale in comparison to the impact of the second. The takeaway from the second meeting is whether or not your message stuck with the people who matter. To make sure it will, you had better learn the phenomenon known as “recency.”

Recency explains why this morning and years from now, Notre Dame’s football team will be thought of as “overmatched,” perhaps even “undeserving,” rather than what they were which was a phenomenal group of players and coaches who were Number 1 and undefeated going into the last game of the season.

Recency is not just a theory based on our what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, 24-hour talking head society. It is based on how the human brain works. Trial lawyers know it. So do psychologists, sociologists, and the world’s best public speakers. When asked to recall a list of items in any order, people tend to begin with the end of the list, recalling best those recently heard. In second position would be the first (or primary) items heard. Of the middle, the best we can say is that recall is hit or miss.

Everyone in a position of authority makes presentations throughout the year. Sometimes it’s an introduction of your company. Often it’s a discussion with employees about the next great initiative or this year’s plan. Either way, the laws of primacy and recency matter…and the best presenters know it.

What this means in the real world is that the first five minutes and the last five minutes count more than the stuff in between. In the first five, make sure people are oriented and know what you consider to be important. In the last five, when the tendency is to “wind things up,” most people tend to end with a whimper rather than a bang. Your job instead is to establish the talking points for the second meeting.

My advice: think to yourself, before any presentation: “if they only remember one thing, I want it to be this.” Make your answer – what you just said to yourself – the highlight of your last 5 minutes. That way, you won’t have to be at the second meeting. You will already have set the agenda.