Resolving the Presenter’s Paradox

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.

paradox_additive

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:

paradox_average

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.

Recommendations for presenters:
  • 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.

 

 

Source:
The Presenter’s Paradox. Weaver, Garcia, Schwarz. 2012.

Are Chinese Companies Reading Employee Emotions?

On April 30th, South China Morning Post reported that Chinese companies are using brain-reading technology to detect the emotional state of workers. The article was short on details but long on effectiveness claims. If you missed it, the device looks like this:

china neural cap

The device appears to fit directly into the uniform hat or helmet, but doesn’t feature a “wet” connection in the form of electrodes. It’s possible the inside curve touches the head, which provides the data feed, but it’s unlikely the device will provide useful diagnostic information. Even less likely is that the data will let employers understand the emotional state of its employees. Data collected using traditional EEGs only provide basic data, and that requires calibration.

That hasn’t stopped the State Grid Zhejiang Electric Power from claiming the technology resulted in a profit increase of $315M USD since its introduction. What’s more likely is that employees, aware of the monitoring, are simply working harder because they’re afraid of losing their jobs. This isn’t sustainable. Possible outcomes include increased stress, employee burnout, and, potentially, workplace accidents.

This isn’t the only place where the Chinese surveillance state is pushing its citizens. In another story from Hangzhou (Hangzhou seems to be surveillance capital of China), schools are using facial recognition technology to ensure children are paying attention. Again, the likelihood this technology is doing what it advertises is vanishingly small, but the societal impact will be real.

Using Mental Models for Forecasting

Sharing a great post from Farnam Street on mental models for problem solving. In my day job, I use a number of these methods for market and product forecasting. One of the most valuable methods is Second Order Thinking:

First-level thinking is simplistic and superficial, and just about everyone can do it (a bad sign for anything involving an attempt at superiority). All the first-level thinker needs is an opinion about the future, as in “The outlook for the company is favorable, meaning the stock will go up.” Second-level thinking is deep, complex and convoluted.

When working with technology vendors, they frequently can’t get past the first level. In their defense, the first order is what’s in front of them – often the next quarter of results. My end user clients, the folks writing checks for technology, are less concerned about the next 3-6 months, but the next 3-6 years. This is where second order thinking comes in. It’s often contentious and imperfect; predicting the future usually is, but this model gives a framework for approaching it.

My Worst Presentation Experience

There was a recent Twitter thread, which I can no longer find, asking presenters for their worst experiences on stage. I have one that is pretty awful, but too long for Twitter, even with 280 characters per post.

Several years ago, my company put on two events back-to-back. The first two and a half days were about business intelligence (BI), while the second day and a half covered enterprise information management (EIM) and master data management (MDM). Personally, I never understood why the two events were separate. The topics are linked too tightly. Luckily, we’ve since restructured the event into one cohesive offering.

One side effect of having two events is that sometimes you gave the same presentation twice. That’s what happened to me on the transition day: I gave one pitch in the morning to a business intelligence audience, then had to give it 90 minutes later to the EIM crowd. Only it wasn’t a crowd. See, once people registered for the EIM portion, they were free to attend BI sessions. As a consequence, I only had about seven people in my second session.

The small audience wasn’t a problem. The problem is how the audience shrank from seven to six.

Apparently an attendee from the previous session was having a health scare and she couldn’t be moved out of the room, and the EMTs took some time to arrive. Fortunately, they arrived about 10 minutes into my presentation, when they proceeded to take her vitals, give her oxygen and strap her onto a gurney. With about 5 minutes to go in my pitch, they wheeled her out to a waiting ambulance.

The entire time, my rapidly shrinking audience was trying to listen to me babble on about data lakes when everyone was distracted by the medical emergency in the back of the room. Needless to say, my scores for that session weren’t great.

How I Work (Travel)

A popular cliché is that you should enjoy the journey as much as the destination. When it comes to business travel, that’s not my policy. My policy is to make the journey as painless and ignorable as possible. That’s shaped how I travel. Here’s how I get from point A to B and back.

About My Travel

I travel just over 100,000 miles a year, mostly for events that my company puts on. I need to pack a couple suits, dress shirts and training gear. I may also need to take weather gear like coats, gloves, etc. I also travel with a lot of electronics: Kindle, iPad, laptop and noise canceling headphones.

Luggage

I have an unhealthy obsession with the idea of one-bag travel. There are dozens of structured backpacks that apparently work well for tourists and casual travelers, but I always travel with at least one suit and several shirts. Add in workout gear, casual clothes, another pair of shoes, dopp kit and electronics, and you’re talking about looking like a wrinkled mess when you get where you’re going. A structured suitcase is essential.

My go-to carry-on is the overpriced Tumi Alpha International. I fell into the Tumi because I got a Tumi gift card from my employer when I finished my MBA. (This was probably their way of telling me to take a hike.)

tumi_alpha2

The Tumi lets me easily pack enough for a 3-day work trip and the bag has been flawless over five-plus years and hundreds of thousands of miles of air travel. The bag still looks new, but that’s not because of some special Tumi magic. It looks new because I never check it. The Tumi warranty is only 5 years and it’s fairly limited. Because of the paltry warranty Tumi chooses to put on its overpriced luggage, I check a different bag for longer trips. This is where the Briggs & Riley comes in.

My second bag is the Briggs & Riley Baseline.

u122cx-7f_1

I’m a fan of Briggs & Riley because of their lifetime warranty and innovative internal expansion system. The bags wear well and have quality construction. In addition to the Baseline, I have another large rolling suiter that’s been through hell and back. Once, I used a hotel sewing kit to make emergency repairs while in Sydney. I’ve also sent it in for warranty service multiple times. Wirecutter also has nice things to say about the brand.

For longer trips when I can’t do laundry, like a week-long, multi-city trip, I’ll divide clothing between the two carry-ons. Then I check one and keep the other so I’m covered if the airline loses a piece of luggage. As I travel, I move the dirty clothes into the checked bag. The B&R bag takes most of the abuse since it’s always the one I check.

Another essential piece of luggage is a lightweight daypack. I prefer the REI Flash 22. It’s easily packable, but still has great capacity at 22 liters.

rei_flash_22

If that’s too much, there’s also the Flash 18, as well as several great options from North Face, Osprey and others. These are great for tourist activities, or for carrying your gear to the nearest gym.

Packing

Packing comes down to what I take and how I organize it in my luggage. I heavily rely on Eagle Creek packing cubes. I have multiple sizes, but always get the lightest weight version. Packing cubes simplify everything about packing, unpacking and general organization. And if customs wants to rifle through your stuff, cubes make it easier to repack and get on your way.

On the Plane

This is where I try to zone out as much as possible. I’ve found two things to help make that possible:

Contoured sleep mask

sleepmask

This mask is countered so it stays off your eyes and the elastic band doesn’t bite into the tops of your ears.

Ear plugs

Screen Shot 2018-04-04 at 18.57.33

I use these ear plugs with my noise canceling headphones to block as much noise as possible.

I’m always interested in approaches, products or techniques others use to master their air travel. If you’ve got a tip, please leave it in the comments.

 

Improving Your Sleep When Flying

Travel and Leisure ran an article on improving how you sleep on planes. It has some good tips, but this is a topic I’m unfortunately familiar with. Here’s what I’ve learned after several years flying over 100,000 miles.

Dress in layers

Every plane starts off with the temperature set to arctic, only to slowly creep up to an uncomfortable level exactly halfway through the flight. Another factor is your own body heat – you’re heating up the seat, blanket, pillow, etc. I start most flights in lightweight travel trousers, t-shirt, sweater, shoes and socks. Over the course of a long-haul flight, I end up in gym shorts and a t-shirt. Managing clothing layers helps me regulate body temperature, ensuring better sleep.

Earplugs and noise canceling headphones

The T&L article covers noise canceling headphones, but I like to double-up with earplugs. Don’t bother with the mushy plugs that come in the amenity kit. I like the Mack’s Ultra Soft foam earplugs. They’re low cost and greatly improve the travel experience, especially when the the infant in 16B is melting down.

Melatonin

I use melatonin daily for better sleep and take larger doses when changing time zones. It also works well when flying for more restful sleep. It doesn’t work for everyone; if it works for you, it may be worth considering. I buy large bottles of melatonin at Costco and take three pills when the food is delivered. Ninety minutes later, I’m ready for some sleep.

What are your go-to tips for better sleep while flying?

Mastering Presentation Rehearsal

When I started my gig as an industry analyst, I was comfortable with the writing and client interaction parts of the job. The last part, getting on stage and talking for 30-45 minutes, was completely foreign to me. I had to learn how to create and deliver compelling stories to international audiences, often with different expectations. Making things worse, sometimes I’m required give presentations that I didn’t create.

Books on developing presentation skills and creating content often talk about the importance of practicing and rehearsing your presentations. But they rarely talk about how and what to practice. After a few years of experience presenting to diverse audiences, here’s what I’ve learned about presentation rehearsal.

Rehearse your content in sections

When I first started, I would rehearse my presentations from start to finish – or at least that was the intent. I’d start with my intro and move quickly into the first few slides. Then I’d get distracted by something, usually minor, on an early slide. Or I’d stumble over a story and keep working on it. The end result was that I didn’t spend as much, if any, time practicing the content in the middle and end.

Divide your rehearsal sessions into blocks to rehearse specific content. You might have an three core topics you want to discuss in your pitch. Schedule time rehearse each section independent of the other sections. This gives you a chance to work on isolated parts and refine them, without being distracted by the whole.

Nail the open and close

The opening was never much of a problem for me. I’d rehearse my opening probably 80-100 times (see above about rehearsing in sections). Then I’d bleed out during the close. Put additional emphasis on your opening and closing sections and schedule that rehearsal time separately.

Practice content transitions

Another trap I fell into was practicing just the talk track for the slide content, not how I would get to the next element or slide. How you arrive at a slide, whether it’s a data-centric transition or story-led transition, practice the transitions from one slide to another. Once I started rehearsing transitions, my delivery was much more fluid and my scores went up. My on-stage anxiety also dropped.

Rehearse on your feet and seated

You must rehearse your content while standing since that’s how you’ll deliver it – out loud and walking around a stage. You can’t just walk through the content in your head. That doesn’t create the necessary muscle memory for a successful delivery. You can also rehearse in front of people, but that’s often not an option for me.

This last tip will seem counterintuitive, but rehearsing my content out loud while seated allows me to focus on just the content. When I rehearse while seated, I focus on keeping my hands and body still and solely on delivering the content. For me, this translates into less random movement on stage. Instead, movements are more planned and (hopefully) more impactful to the audience.

Suggested reading

  • Richard Butterfield’s Power of Persuasion – I’ve had an opportunity to work with Mr. Butterfield on my presentation style and effectiveness. If you can take one of his workshops, I highly recommend it. If you can’t, his book is one of the best I’ve read on communication and presentation skills.
  • Confessions of a Public Speaker – Scott Berkun’s book was one of the first I read when I realized a significant portion of my job would be delivering presentations. Scott offers practical advice on both the mechanics of public speaking and storytelling.