The Presentation Mistake You Don’t Know You’re Making

Fascinating study from Harvard Business Review on presentation and how others perceive it. The bottom line: when you present a list of things (features, accomplishments, etc.) mentally those reviewing that list treat it as an average rather than a sum. From the report:

During an interview, your potential new boss asks you to briefly describe your qualifications. At this moment, you have a single objective: be impressive. So you begin to rattle off your list of accomplishments: your degrees from Harvard and Yale, your prestigious internships, your intimate knowledge of essential software and statistical analysis. “Oh,” you add. “And I took two semesters of Spanish in college.” Not technically an impressive accomplishment, but since the company does a lot of business in Latin America, you figure some Spanish is better than none at all.

Or is it?

Actually, it isn’t. You’ve just fallen victim to a phenomenon that psychologists have recently discovered, called the “Presenter’s Paradox.” It’s another fascinating example of how our instincts about selling — ourselves, our company, or our products — can be surprisingly bad.

I’ve seen this a little bit myself. Until recently we kept web pages around for Palm, Windows Mobile and BlackBerry versions of powerOne, even though those products don’t sell anymore. Part of it was just not getting around to removing them and part of it was wanting to make sure that those folks still had access to help resources. [1]

Oddly (to me anyway), we occasionally received emails saying, “You support Palm but not Windows Phone!” or some such modern operating system version, as if we made the recent decision to write for Palm and it isn’t a decade old app we still have around. I can’t help but wonder now whether this Presentation Paradox was in full effect for them.

[1] Yes, we still have customers that carry around old PalmPilots just to use our software. While I removed the product pages from view, I minimized the support pages but left them available. They don’t have the same “weight” as the iOS and Android links have.

3 thoughts on “The Presentation Mistake You Don’t Know You’re Making

  1. As a psychologist the concept of “tooting your own horn” makes common sense. How else would a stranger know your background. There is a big difference between bragging and reporting. However this is a non verbal nuance rather then objective data.

    • Hi Uncle Michael! Thanks for chiming in. Do you believe the report is false then? That adding something like a little bit of Spanish doesn’t really bring the average down, that an interviewer for instance would treat this as an aside?

      • We all have assets. Acknowledging these assets increases our credibility assuming the assets fit the job requirements.

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