It's All About You!

... but they're just not that into you."


In a previous post on my site, you may have read about how self-centeredness is an obstacle to all communication, extending all the way from social conversations to our focus, presentations. To remove that barrier, to put the "co-" in "communication," the effective communicator adds interaction to interpersonal exchanges, but more important, adds benefits for the listener -- whether that listener is the other person in a conversation or the audience for a presentation.

But that leaves open the question of why any person in his or her right mind would allow a failure to communicate to occur in the first place. There are two answers: one scientific and the other a pervasive misconception that has taken on the status of a legacy in the world of presentations.

Harvard neuroscientist Diana Tamir and her Harvard colleague Jason Mitchell conducted a series of experiments to explore why people like to talk about themselves. The results, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said:

Here, we test recent theories that individuals place high subjective value on opportunities to communicate their thoughts and feelings to others and that doing so engages neural and cognitive mechanisms associated with reward. Five studies provided support for this hypothesis. Self-disclosure was strongly associated with increased activation in brain regions that form the mesolimbic dopamine system, including the nucleus accumbens and ventral tegmental area.

The mesolimbic dopamine system just happens to be the same part of the brain in which pleasurable sensations occur. Meaning that, as The Wall Street Journal story about the study summarized it, "Talking about ourselves --whether in a personal conversation or through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter --triggers the same sensation of pleasure in the brain as food or money."

This places a very high barrier to being able to interrupt the party bores who monopolize conversations; and the only solution I can offer is to repeat what I wrote in the previous blog: excuse yourself and head for the bar to refresh your drink.

Presentations are another matter. As a coach, I have spent the greater part of my career urging presenters to include benefits in their pitches. But the need to remind them still persists. Presenters continue to sell features and/or blow their own horn. The reason they do -- and this is only conjecture -- goes all the way back to the dawn of the presentation universe when some sage decided that presentations should begin with a "snapshot" that introduces the presenter's company. This usually results in an initial slide that, depending on who creates it, is a hodgepodge of disparate facts that include (but is not limited to):

  • year of founding
  • number of employees
  • value proposition
  • financial results
  • markets served
  • key customers
  • office location
  • square footage

This step gets the presentation off on the wrong foot for a number of reasons: The slide attempts to tell the whole story, the story is not apparent at a glance, the focus shifts attention away from the presenter, the presenter is forced to read the slide... the list goes on. But worst of all, it's all about you and not about the audience and, to paraphrase the title of the 2004 bestselling book, they're just not that into you.

Make the front end of your presentation about your audience. Focus on their issues and concerns and tell them what your company can do for them. Pivot from your point of view to theirs. This pivot is best illustrated by the story of Theodore Leavitt, a professor at Harvard Business School who told his students not to try to sell customers a quarter-inch drill, but a way to make a quarter-inch hole. Tie what you do to your audience's needs.

Consider the snapshot as boilerplate that is best left to the handout materials. If you still feel the need to include information about your company within the presentation, shift it to later in the deck, after you have shown them how well you understand them.

It's all about them.

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