Hands up who hates presentations.
Sadly, they’re a fear-inducing yet totally necessary element of the modern working world.
Thankfully, we come bearing good news. A study by Journal of Consumer Research has uncovered an interesting paradox that effectively concludes we’re all preparing far too much for those dreaded decks.
The problem simply is this: the presenter always assumes when they present someone with a list of notable achievements, accomplishments or facts, the recipient will assess the information additively. In a presentation it’s tempting to offer information on sales, results and KPI’s. If a presenter says “we saw a 120% in sales, a 90% increase in views and, a 75% increase in engagements and two downloads of our research paper” the presenter naturally assumes that the listener will add those impressive feats together. Employing a hypothetical cool scale, that would equate to 10+10+10+2=32. Unfortunately, subconsciously, the listener feels like the impressive information is devalued by the less impressive result. Instead, they find the overall average of coolness. To the average listener, this information is a (10+10+10+2)/4=8.
The mistake, according to study authors Kimberlee Weaver and Stephen Garcia comes down to perspective. The presenter looks at the presentation in individual components, while the receiver judges the document as a whole.
“One reason presenters may fail to intuit holistic processing on the part of evaluators is that, while the evaluator’s task is to make a summary judgment of the overall presentation, the task of the presenter is different: instead of judging the target as a whole, the act of constructing a presentation from its individual components may turn the pieces themselves into the objects of attention. Since presenters face many pieces of potentially relevant information and need to determine, in a bottom-up fashion, which ones to include in a presentation, this task may naturally lead the presenter to focus on each individual piece of information as a discrete entity,” states the study.
The study also proved that marketers instinct is usually way off.
For example, Weaver and Garcia showed that when buyers were presented with an iPod Touch package that contained either an iPod, cover, and one free song download, or just an iPod and cover, they were willing to pay an average of $177 for the package with the download, and $242 for the one without the download.
Predictably, marketers assumed that buyers would appreciate one mediocre download and see it as added value but instead, ironically, it cheapened the whole product (hint hint Bono).
The lesson in all of this is to try look at your presentation document in its entirety and don’t get bogged down in the detail. Keep it short, simple and relevant. If you think you’re adding detail for the sake of it you probably definitely are. Step away, scale it back and remember sometimes less really is more.