Deciding what information to include in a presentation is a challenge everyone faces. From the presenter’s perspective, every fact that supports the presentation objective has some value. These might be case studies, data points, primary research, or other elements that drive the point home. Some facts, like primary research studies, might have a high impact while others, like anecdotes and informal stories, have less impact. Regardless of the weight of the information, presenters believe including all favorable information improves how audiences receive and evaluate the content. Presenters believe this creates an additive effect, roughly depicted below.
Unfortunately, this isn’t how audiences evaluate content. Information with less impact dilutes more impactful information. Rather than an additive view, audiences take an averaging approach. As a presenter, you might think you’re throughly convincing the audience by including every snippet of data, but the audience experiences it differently:
You might experience this when watching a movie. As an observer, your evaluation is based on the entire movie. If the story is captivating but falls apart in the last act, you’re likely to rate the movie less positively even though most of the move was excellent. Another example might be an offer to purchase a new smartphone on its own, or purchase a slightly more expensive bundle that includes low quality headphones. In comparing the two offers, the low quality components reduce the desirability of the bundle relative to just buying the smartphone. This focusing on the big picture instead of individual components is called holistic processing.
Presenters generally fail to recognize holistic processing because their objectives are different from the evaluators. Evaluators assess the entire presentation, while presenters build presentations from individual components which become their own objects of attention. This happens largely because presenters create content using a bottom-up, rather than a top-down approach.
- Build your storyline first, then support it with only the most relevant facts. Avoid the bottom-up approach whenever possible.
- Evaluate potential information in the context of the overall story rather than discretely. Moderately impactful information will dilute the impact of highly impactful information.
- Choose the right information for your audience and message. Growth-centric presentations should avoid information on risk and loss, while prevention-centric presentations should highlight it.