A recent study provides ample evidence of something we’ve suspected all along: when offering reasons in an attempt to persuade, three reasons work best.
Researchers at Georgetown University and UCLA looked at six scenarios where reasons or claims were offered to persuade:
A breakfast cereal
An old friend reuniting with a former boyfriend
A new brand of shampoo
An ice cream shop
For each of these six scenarios, one, two, three, four, five, and six reasons were offered in support of the persuasion attempt.
The study concluded that when the audience suspects that persuasion is a motive (which is always the case with business audiences), persuasiveness peaks with three positive claims, and falls off with four or more claims. As the number of claims increases from one to three, targets find the additional information useful. But once you hit four, you trigger their skepticism and your persuasiveness diminishes significantly.
Lesson: Always offer three reasons in support of your proposal, idea, or argument. If you only have two, think of another. If you have four or more, cut the excess out. Three is the magic number.
See Kurt A. Carlson and Suzanne B. Shu, When Three Charms but Four Alarms: Identifying the Optimal Number of Claims in Persuasion Settings, at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2277117
There have been several books written solely about Steve Jobs’ skill as a presenter. Jobs is widely acclaimed as the ‘gold standard’ of presenters. And he certainly was outstanding. But even Steve Jobs was only human, and he made mistakes and missed opportunities just like the rest of us. He also broke a lot of “rules”:
Conventional wisdom says you need to make good eye contact. Jobs didn’t. He looked as if he was in his own little world: Steve’s World. Fortunately for him, everyone wanted a peek into his magical world. No one cared that he wasn’t looking at them.
Conventional wisdom says you need to move with purpose. Jobs paced back and forth aimlessly. His audience sat enthralled anyway.
Conventional wisdom says you need to pause at appropriate points and have a smooth delivery. Jobs would take a swig of water in mid-sentence. His audience would wait for him to resume and not tune out.
So before you try to make yourself over as the next Steve Jobs there are a few things you should know.
You’re not Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs was a celebrity. He could deliver presentations to thousands of people while dressed in jeans, a black T-shirt, and sneakers. He was only one of a handful of people who could pull that off. Mark Zuckerberg can do it. Richard Branson can do it in a dress. But even Donald Trump wears a suit when speaking to a large group, like most politicians and CEOs. You probably should, too.
Steve Jobs always had a friendly audience. Whether addressing an audience of Apple employees (friendly), a group of developers and techies at a product launch (friendly), or students at their university commencement (awestruck), Steve Jobs didn’t have to worry about hecklers or skeptics. His audiences were very receptive. You probably won’t be so lucky. Most of your audiences will be skeptical at best and hostile at worst. How unfair! But that’s business.
Steve Jobs missed opportunities. One was when he introduced the world’s thinnest notebook computer, the MacBook Air. Jobs, always the showman, took the sleek new product out of an interoffice mail envelope and unveiled to the world it for the first time. The only problem was the image projected behind him was of an interoffice envelope. That made the grand reveal somewhat anticlimactic – people saw it coming. I like to imagine what he could have done differently:
Imagine Jobs is about to introduce the MacBook Air. Suddenly, a man in a familiar brown deliveryman’s uniform wanders onto the stage and interrupts him.
Deliveryman: “Excuse me, I’m looking for Steve Jobs….”
Steve Jobs: Looks at audience in disbelief, as if there could be someone on the planet who doesn’t recognize him. Pregnant pause. “I’m Steve Jobs.”
Deliveryman: “OK, I need you to sign right here.”
Steve Jobs: “I’m in the middle of an important presentation, can’t this wait?”
Deliveryman: “No sir, it’s urgent – I have to deliver this right now.”
Steve Jobs: “Sigh. OK.” [signs for the envelope]
Deliveryman: “Thank you. Have a nice day.” [exits stage left]
Steve Jobs: [opens envelope] “Introducing the new MacBook Air.” [super-crazy applause]
This may seem like nitpicking, but Steve Jobs had a much more forgiving audience than most of us will have. We have a tougher time standing out and getting our message across.
Why is Jobs so good despite breaking so many rules? He’s a celebrity and an icon.
So how can you give a great presentation if you’re not an icon like Steve Jobs? Here’s the secret: passion and authenticity.
Passion is what excites the audience. Passion pushes our emotional buttons. Passion moves people. Being enthusiastic and dynamic, running about excitedly, shouting, gesticulating madly could be suggestive of passion, or lunacy, or trying to hard. But true passion comes through without the histrionics.
Steve Jobs doesn’t bounce off the walls, scream, or dislocate his shoulder with overdone gestures. But the passion is clearly there. It shows in his choice of words, his emphasis and tone, his commitment to his vision – he reeks of passion. When you love what you’re doing, it shows. He transfers his passion to the audience.
Authenticity means you are being true to yourself. Your audience wants to see the real you, and they can spot a phony. Authenticity is the highest form of credibility. It is more valuable than all the knowledge, experience, expertise, and authority in the world. If you are true, the audience will believe in you. Being an expert also helps, but that’s the bare minimum in business. Authenticity is more important – it connects you to your audience.
Competence and professionalism are expected of any business presenter – you don’t get extra points for having them. Confidence, presence, and polish are nice to have. But passion and authenticity are the two most critical qualities of a kickass presenter. Anything else is gravy.
Why this book?
There are so many books about presentation skills out there, and over the years I’ve read scores of them. Most of them repeat the same nonsense:
Only 7% of your message comes from the words you use, and 93% comes from body language, tone of voice, and your appearance. Ridiculous! The study usually cited to support those numbers said nothing of the sort.
You need to locate your diaphragm and learn to breathe properly. I’m no doctor, but I’m pretty sure your diaphragm is right where it belongs, and you don’t have to worry about your breathing. My guess is you’ve been breathing all your life, and you’ll get enough air whenever you speak.
You need to follow a bunch of rules that all good presenters follow, so that you will be a good presenter just like all the other good presenters. In other words: bland, boring, plain vanilla. You don’t want to be like every other good presenter – you want to stand out.
These books are all about style and polish. If you follow their advice you might do well in a Toastmasters competition. But a business audience is far more demanding. A business presentation is not a beauty contest, it’s about persuasion.
So I decided to write a different kind of book. One that focuses on understanding your audience and developing a clear message. Creating slides and other materials that do what they’re supposed to do. Using persuasion techniques to win your game. Giving you the delivery techniques that make a difference (not polish!).
If you’re content to be like everyone else and settle for average then any book will do.
But if you want to knock it out of the park with your business presentations, then this is the book for you.
It’s also illustrated!
You can get it now at http://www.kickassbusinesspresentations.com. Coming soon to bookstores, Amazon, and ebook portals.