Recently the entertainment world, and frankly the entire world, was rocked by the deaths of Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. I am not going to comment about their careers or legacies (there are going to be plenty of websites, radio programs, and TV shows doing that). I am also certainly not going to mock either of them (decisions like that are how I keep the “smart” in “Smartass”)
Of course Michael’s death has been dominating the news. What has been interesting is the media coverage. When Farrah Fawcett is talked about, the coverage is universally positive: talking about Charlie’s Angels, her continued acting work, the iconic poster, and what would be the most copied hair-style in the world until Jennifer Aniston would come along.
Michael’s has been more mixed. While the vast majority of coverage has been focusing on and celebrating his amazing music career, some focus has been on the controversy in his later life, especially the legal issues and various “little kid” allegations. I have seen some downright vitriolic comments in my Twitter and Facebook feeds.
This made me curious. When a person passes, we normally focus as much as possible on the positive. But Michael Jackson had such highs and lows, that the response has been more mixed. I have come across three theories that explain what we remember and why. These ideas can be used very effectively in speaking, but are also worth looking at in terms or the impressions we make and the legacies we leave.
The Rule of Primacy – We most remember what we experience first.
This is why speakers like to have “big openings.” Your first experience with something is going to stick out in your mind.
Michael Jackson certainly had an incredibly positive beginning. The Jackson 5, Off the Wall, and of course, “Thriller,” which is the best selling album of all time. Michael really was on top of the world for quite a while, and that is many of our first experiences with him (my intro to MJ was seeing the video for “Beat It” from Thriller on “Friday Night Videos.” I thought it was a female singer…)
First Impressions are critically important, whether on stage, in an interview, at a networking event, on a date, or when launching a product.
Question: What kind of first impression do you make? What kinds of first impressions have you made in the past? What can you do to continually create a better first impression?
The Rule of Recency – We most remember what we experience last.
The big finish. The lasting memory. This is why speakers work hard on a big close and musicians play their biggest song last. People remember the last thing they experience.
Sadly for Michael, the recent stuff has not been positive. Lots of weirdness, meltdowns, court appearances, and of course all the pedophilia allegations. He was planning a giant concert tour which would have created a new “last impression,” but didn’t get to it.
We all know people who start with a bang and end with a whimper. They feel that they can coast on past work, but unfortunately, the world will remember the very last thing you did. “You are only as good as your last success.” This is why even if you have an amazing date, if you go in for that goodnight kiss and get rejected it wipes out all the good vibes you’ve built up. Not that this is ever happened to me…
Question: What kind of last impression are you leaving? What can you do to ensure that the last thing people will remember will be positive?
The Rule of Peak Experience – We most remember what we experience the strongest.
No matter when it occurs, whatever happens to you while you are in a peak state, positive or negative, you’ll remember. If you’re speaking to a group, they will remember the biggest laugh, most moving story, or most profound thing you say. They may completely forget the rest, but they’ll remember the peak things.
In my opinion, this is where the Michael Jackson divide comes from now. Many people’s strongest memories of Michael Jackson are of his music, or a childhood memory of putting together a dance routine to Billie Jean. Not that I ever did that…
For others, the strongest emotion they associate to Michael revolve around the pedophilia allegations. These are the people who are not celebrating his career and music right now. Don’t underestimate the power of the peak experience. You can have a very nice interaction with someone and get along great, but if you make one comment that they take the wrong way it can completely destroy the relationship.
I’ve also had the reverse experience: hanging with someone who’s pretty quiet and not making much of an impression and then they say one thing that makes me laugh hysterically. From then on, that’s what I remember.
Question: What is the strongest impression you are leaving people with? Is it positive of negative? What can you do to make certain that you are leaving a strong positive impression on people?
No one likes to think about their own mortality. But days like this are a good time to take a second to reflect: how will you be remembered, and how do you want to be remembered? If they’re not the same, do something about it now!