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Think about the last time you put together a large group presentation.  Think about what the topic was, who was in the audience, and how you approached it.  What was your thought process or methodology as you put together the deck?   Go ahead, I’ll wait as you think it out.

If you’re like the rest of us, you probably worked through a process more or less like this:

  • Identify your audience and their interests – Why should they care?
  • Identify your key messages – What do you want them to take away?
  • Outline the main points you need to make in order to coherently communicate your messages
  • Flesh out the deck with supporting data, quotes, anecdotes, etc.

While your own approach may differ in various ways, I’d say this is a pretty good example of how most people approach presentation-creation.

The problem with this?… It’s all about “ME”!!

“What do I want to communicate?”  “What do I want them to take away?”  “What evidence do I need to get MY point across?”

Clearly, influencing an audience – impacting their opinions or behavior – is a primary reason for presenting in the first place, so there is a natural tendency for presentations to be me-centered.

However, behavorial sciences tell us that influence is not a monolithic craft. It’s not simply about putting forward indisputable arguments that are supported by a barrage of facts and anecdotes.  In fact, it doesn’t matter how good your case is if you don’t present it in a way that is accessible and meaningful.

There is nothing new in this idea, but a colleague of mine recently shared with me a technique that sheds a whole new light on the concept of putting the audience (or user, as we’ll see) first.

As you put together your next deck, imagine that at the beginning of the presentation each audience member has an “attention” account with 100 pennies inside (if they’re at a conference and this is their Nth session of the day, you might want to assume 40 or 50 pennies; if it’s a VC, they may only have 10).

Each slide, bullet point, piece of data, and key message that you put in front of them requires a withdrawal of some of those pennies.  Now, if the data and messages are relevant and clearly presented, the withdrawals may be small (a few cents).  If your message makes them want to jump out of their chair in excitement, you may even manage to make a desposit.  But if the material doesn’t resonate, is too detailed, or is presented in a confusing manner, there is a multiplication factor that makes each withdrawal huge (10, 30, 50 cents). Before you know it you have people’s minds and bodies wandering out the door.

What I love about this idea is that it forces the speaker to stop asking, “am I getting my point across effectively” and start wondering, “how large of a withdrawal does this additional slide or chart represent.”  Suddenly, the presentation-creation process becomes less about sounding smart and more about keeping it simple and concise in order to keep people’s attention.  Which do you think is more influential?

I would argue that you could apply the exact same approach to product or service design, and see similarly striking results.  Engineers, like presenters in our example above, have a tendency to over-do it.  They love complexity because it makes them feel smart.  They add fancy features and functions to products in order make them more “robust.”

But what if engineers and designers began to think of customers’ interactions with their products as requiring these same sort of behavioral “withdrawals.”  Pressing a button costs a penny. If you have to search among a sea of buttons before you can press it, that’s 10 or 15 pennies.

You get the idea. The result of applying it, I imagine, would be akin to desiging “appropriate technology.”  Engineers and designers would suddenly have built-in incentives to start aligning the form and function of products and services with the learned habits, behaviors, capabilities, and the social and environmental circumstances of their users.  More of that, I think, would be awesome.

After all, who would want to pay a quarter for something when they can get it for a penny?

(For lots of great bad design examples, go here)


As follow-up on my last post, I wanted to share part of Tori Hogan‘s “Beyond Good Intentions” series.

Tori is former aid-worker, filmmaker, and blogger with SocialEdge.

Episode seven of Tori’s series explores for-profit approaches to development in Madagascar with the company BushProof.

In addition to the ingenuity of the founders and employees of BushProof, what’s striking about the video is the fact that Adriann Mol, Founder and Director of BushProof, is not ashamed of the fact that he is running a bona fide for-proft business, albeit one with a very explicit social mission that guides its management principles.

To paraphrase Adriann:

“…You enter into an economic system that gives full sustainability… So it saves these people significant money… it gives us income so we can run the company and grow bigger, sell more of them – it’s a win-win.”

I just finished Thaler and Sunstein’s Nudge.  Though my enthusiasm faded a bit as the book wore on, I have to admit that the concept of choice architecture that they explore is one of the most exciting ideas that I’ve encountered in a long time.  So exciting, in fact, that I would consider making a career of it (in some ways I already am).

Enthusiasm aside, as I finished the last chapter on “Objections” tonight, I was struck by one of the authors’ comments.  

They discuss the objection that policymakers should always attempt to be neutral.  Well, the premise of the book rests largely on the fact that many of us are choice architects, even though we may not realize it.  We are involved in designing the environments in which people make decisions.  Therefore we influence decisions, whether we like it or not.  So we might as well be intentional in how we go about our design.

What struck me about the neutrality discussion was the assumption that neutrality somehow denotes innocence.  For some reason, as a society we forgive neutrality and punish or reward intentionality (depending on how things turn out).  So if I kill someone unintentionally – in a car accident, for example – I am treated differently than if I kill someone in a premeditated fashion.  The first is likely to somehow be a result of negligence, while the second is a result of something much more insidious.  In this way, they are different.  Yet, both result in the same outcome.  

Along the same lines, choice architects who drive us toward stupid decisions unintentionally are somehow innocent.  Yet, those who drive us toward bad decisions intentionally are somehow evil because they game the system.  

This seems a bit strange to me.  Maybe it shouldn’t.  But  I would prefer a set of cultural norms that places slightly greater emphasis on personal awareness and responsibility.  

If you drive, you drive safely.  If you nudge, nudge intentionally.

From liccle_minxs photostream

From liccle_minx's photostream


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