Don’t Bare It All with Your Data
Try as we might, most of us are guilty of cramming too much data into our research reports and presentations. But why is this so bad? Can’t we help the reader along with executive summaries and a concise narrative in headlines, and all the extra stuff pushed into appendices? Why not offer details and high level views to give our audience the best of both worlds?
It all depends on the kind of presentation we want to create. Creating a reference document is one thing. But if the goal in presenting data is to persuade, then new research published in the Journal of Consumer Research suggests that we should present only the strongest data:
Presenters fail to anticipate the information-processing mind-set of evaluators and, as a consequence, design presentations that thwart their intentions. When considering which information to include in a presentation, presenters follow a “more is better” rule that results in an additive pattern. They assume that every favorable piece of information adds to their overall case and hence include it in the bundle they present.
Unfortunately, presenters fail to recognize that the holistic information-processing mind-set of evaluators leads them to make judgments that result in an averaging pattern, under which the addition of mildly favorable information dilutes the impact of highly favorable information. Hence, presenters’ more-is-better strategy backfires, and they would be better off if they limited their presentation to their most favorable information.
The same goes for other types persuasive communications, which means there are important implications for our marketing and PR colleagues as well. Don’t lay out all the benefits of a new product or service. Don’t offer all supportive threads (and data points) for a PR story. Don’t bundle strong incentives, bonuses, or features with weaker ones.
All of this reminds me of why our clients “love, love, love” the infographic research summaries we create for them at the end of every project. We design them as persuasive communications to hook interest and sell a story. Only the strongest data is included, and we aggressively cut so that we’re highlighting only three, at most four, pieces of the story. In our effort to create a compelling marketing tool for our clients, we hit upon the very conclusion that the JCR research explains.