When more becomes less. The Presenter’s Paradox

I have done my fair share of software presentations over the years, and I more than once have committed the crime of trying to impress the audience by showing more and more things about my products. At the time I had the firm believe that this would impress them and get them to see the vast superiority of our offer. However, instinctively in the back of my mind there has always been a perception that there was a point where this addition of features starts to backfire.


Clicker by Frank HammThis idea has been better formalised on a very interesting study that names this phenomenon as “The Presenters Paradox” (Weaver, Garcia & Schwarz 2012). As you probably know, humans have to evaluate everything in relative terms and reduce all the information we are presented with to something we can handle. However, the process that our brains follow to do this might vary depending on the side of the information chain we are. Thus producing some seemingly contradictory results as that study demonstrates.

People in presentational roles will fail to anticipate that a moderately positive attribute will dilute the desirability of the overall package from the evaluators’ perspective

Essentially, the study comes to demonstrate that  when we are presenting an offer to a potential buyer we are tempted might include additional mildly favourable items on the hope that this add up and tilts the audience on our favour. Or at least, that is what we believe from the presenter’s perspective, at the end of the day we are showing


On the article you can find some really interesting examples. The hotel advertisement is one of my favourites. In this study presenters are given the task of choosing what features to highlight on an hotel ad: A pool rated 5 starts (highly favourable), and a restaurant rated 3 stars (mildly favourable ). The results show how while most of the presenters decide to add both features thinking that more is better, the strategy backfires as the evaluators apply a holistic view and give more favourable ratings to the listings with a smaller number of highly favourable features.

The Presenter’s Paradox on Software Sales

How this applies to the Software Demonstrations & Sales? Let’s imagine another example. You are presenting your software solution proposition to your potential customers. You know they are very much interested in features A and B as they will be the key for their business objectives. You also have other 2 features C and D that are not immediately relevant for what the customer wants to achieve. Now let’s suppose that we can put a number on the perceive value (more on this topic in a future post) of this features for the customer on a scale 1 to 10.


  • Our software: A=10 | B=10 | C=7 | D= 5
  • Competitor: A=9 | B=9 | C = 5 | D = 5

As the customer is interested in A & B, initially we have a really strong proposition and we are better than our competitor. The average perceived value by the customer is 10. At this point we can stop there, we are on high and the customer loves our software, or we can be tempted to mention the other features our software has in order to demonstrate our superiority. We are on a high so we decide to go ahead and show C. This now leaves us with the average perceived value of 9. As we demonstrate C we start to see some tougher questions and hints of doubts from the audience, so we decide to go ahead and introduce also D to show that we can cover other areas. We know that this is our weakest one, but we believe is ok because competition is not good either. So, at the end of the presentation we have an average perceived value of 8.


Meanwhile, our competitor decides that the best strategy is to stick to its guns and only demo the two key features for the customer business scenario. That leaves them with an average perceived value of 9. So, despite having a weaker proposition that ours the perception by the customer is know that overall (and that is the key) they provide a better value.


Perception \ Features Presented A + B We add C We add D
Ours 10 9 8
Competitor 9 9 9

This whole story comes to highlight how important is to prepare any demo and have a solid strategy for complex software sales. The key here is to know what the customer is looking for and anticipate how they will evaluate our software. We need to make sure we maximise the perceived value of our proposal by the customers.


Hope you found it interesting. Thanks for reading.


Originally posted at Marco Amoedo


Featured Picture by NASA Goddard

Post Picture by Frank Hamn

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