The Science of Compelling Presentations

David Hoffeld, CEO of Hoffeld Group

What makes a presentation compelling? Why does presenting a product or service one way reduce the likelihood of the sale, while presenting the same product or service in another way increase the probability of the purchase?

In the past, answers to these important questions were left up to speculation. However, this is no longer the case. There have been thousands of social science studies, which have identified the causal factors that create and enable influence. As a result, we now know why one presentation inspires buying behaviors, while another does not.

This proven science is extremely relevant to everyone in sales and marketing because it has the power to significantly enhance the persuasive clout of any presentation. The more communicative behaviors are aligned with these scientific findings, the more influential presentations will be.

Though there are many scientific principles that you could use to heighten your ability to deliver compelling presentations. The following are three practical, scientifically validated principles that will guide you in presenting in ways that will amplify buyer receptiveness.

Principle #1: Single Option Aversion
Does the number of product options presented impact whether or not a purchase will be made? This was the question that researcher Daniel Mochon sought to answer. Mochon’s research, which was published in the Journal of Consumer Research and also cited in the Harvard Business Review, found that the number of product options presented heavily influenced buying behavior.

In one of his most famous research experiments, consumers were asked to purchase a DVD player. When only a single DVD player was shown, 10% purchased. However, when two DVD players were presented, sales skyrocketed as an impressive 66% purchased.

When buyers are presented with only a single option, they rarely feel comfortable purchasing. In contrast, when presented with numerous options, the brain instinctively compares each and selects the best. This comparison reduces the perception of risk and inspires the confidence to purchase.  

Principle #2: Value-Discounting Effect
To stimulate interest and demonstrate the value of a product or service, sales and marketing professionals will often provide buyers with a gift or incentive. This could be anything from a sample of the product, research report, special pricing or additional features.

One of the primary saboteurs of this strategy is what social scientists refer to as the value-discounting effect. The value-discounting effect is the perception that when something is given away it is of less value than if it was a standalone product or service.

When buyers are given a gift or incentive that is not assigned a value, they will intuitively diminish its worth since it was given to them at no cost. This will minimize the influence of the gift or incentive and considerably dull its impact.

The best way to combat the value-discounting effect is to assign a specific value to a gift or incentive. This can be done by stating the monetary value or the benefits that the buyer will receive. Doing this will stabilize the perception of value and prompt buyers to respond to the gift or incentive in the desired manner.

Principle #3: Social Proof
If you drove up to a restaurant at dinner time that you had never visited before and no one was in the restaurant, would you go inside? Most people quickly respond, “Probably not.” Yet, why does the fact that there are no patrons in the restaurant discourage you from dining there?

The answer is because of a powerful scientific principle called social proof. The ability of social proof to sway human behavior has fascinated social scientists for over 100 years.  Social proof is the innate desire and social norm that guides one in connecting the persuasiveness of an idea or behavior with how others are responding to it. It is why people are drawn to best-selling books, blockbuster movies, busy restaurants and businesses that have many satisfied customers.

Triggering the positive influence that social proof creates can be done by demonstrating to buyers that others, preferably their peer group, have embraced an idea or chosen to purchase your product or service. People want to make buying decisions that feel safe. When sales and marketing professionals utilize social proof in favor of their product or service they reduce the perception of risk and amplify desire.

Social proof is such a strong lever of influence that even large companies use it to influence buyers. Ford Motor Company gave away Ford Focus cars to some key influencers so they would be seen driving the car. Hebrew National also sought to activate social proof when it hired “mom squads” to host hotdog get-togethers for friends.  Even the marketing firm that promotes Red Bull energy drink attempted to market Red Bull by filling up popular sidewalk trash cans with empty Red Bull cans.

Because of many scientific breakthroughs our capacity to understand and accurately predict human behavior has drastically improved. When you leverage this science you will literally be presenting in the way buyers’ brains are wired to be influenced. This will cause your presentations to be more compelling and motivate buying behaviors.

David Hoffeld is the CEO of Hoffeld Group, a research-based sales training, coaching and consulting firm that is the leader in translating the findings of social science into practical, sales specific concepts, strategies and tactics that empower sales people to sell more.