From the Lab: Consider All of Your Options (Together)

In a recent study reported by Harvard Business Review, Shankha Basu and Krishna Savani compared two different ways of making decisions: considering your options in series—examining them one by one—or considering them in parallel—examining them all at one, next to each other.

What they found was that across a variety of different kinds of decisions, “people were, on average, 22% more likely to choose the objectively best option when they viewed options together rather than one at a time.” In one experiment, “those who viewed options individually chose the best option 75% of the time, while those who viewed options together identified the best product 84% of the time.”

Unfortunately, we don’t always do this. In a survey about how people made decisions, the researchers found that despite the fact that parallel comparison is better, people only use this technique for about half of the decisions they make. In addition, when it comes to presenting decisions (on a shopping website, for example), only some presenters give their audience the chance to use it (for example, by allowing customers to compare products side-by-side).

When you’re the one presenting a decision, you can use this information to good effect for the benefit of both you and your audience (assuming that the right decision for the audience is also the right decision for you, which hopefully it is). Whenever possible, present options side-by-side, and your audience will be more likely to choose wisely.

From the Lab: More Isn’t Always Better

Previously, I’ve noted that it’s important to “remember the iceberg” and present only the most relevant 10% of what you know about your topic to your audience. As it turns out, this is not only practical (you only have time to present 10%)—it can actually be even better for your audience (and your cause).

In Captivology: The Science of Capturing People’s Attention, Benn Parr cites a 2008 study in which “researchers at Yale University and the University of Innsbruck found that stock traders with more financial and market information did not perform better than their counterparts. Instead, the quality of information mattered more. In their research, they learned that well-informed traders—specifically insiders—clearly had the best financial performance, not because they had the most amount of information but because they had the best information.”

While it’s tempting to think that if you give your audience more information, they’ll automatically make better decisions, this isn’t necessarily the case. Not being experts on your topic, the audience needs your help to know what’s important. Seen through this lens, your job as a speaker is not to share everything you’ve learned about your topic, but rather to pre-digest your topic for your audience, sharing only the information that’s really important to them, the information that will help them make better decisions (and in doing so, hopefully support your cause).