It’s time to work on your presentation. How do you tackle the decisions that need to be made? When it comes time to write a presentation, do you obsess over every single decision until it immobilizes you? As it turns out, your need to try to get every single little detail of the presentation exactly right could actually be hurting you.

Psychologists say that people usually fall into one of two categories when making decisions. They are either maximizers or satisficers (we’ll explain this strange term below). Let’s discuss these two types further so that we can understand how the different styles can help us or hurt us when it comes to presenting. 

The Research

In 2002 The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a paper called “Maximizing Versus Satisficing: Happiness Is a Matter of Choice.” In it, the researchers published their findings that people who obsess over details and try to make every decision perfectly might be more prone to depression, perfectionism, and regret. They might also have lower levels of optimism, self-esteem, and life satisfaction. What this research goes to prove, is that often the time we spend aiming for presentation perfection can lead to negative outcomes. It can help us adopt a more balanced approach as public speakers. Let’s break apart the two categories so that you can try to figure out which one you tend towards. 

Maximizers: Paralysis Through Analysis

In her article, “How Good Enough is Actually Optimal,” Janet Choi gives these qualities of the maximizers:

  • exhaustively seek the best
  • compare decisions with others
  • expend more time and energy
  • unhappier with outcomes

I’m a maximizer to the core. I am consumed by the belief that if I read one more article, do one more revision, or spend one more hour, I’ll finally reach the perfection for which I strive. It’s an exhausting way to live. And as research has now proven, I may be less satisfied with my presentation because of the exhaustive energy I spend on it.

It’s important to note that this research deals more with your feelings after the decision rather than the actual product outcome. So it could be that a maximizer develops a better presentation due to the time and energy she expends. But science shows that she will likely exhaust herself in the process and feel regret or worry once the presentation is over about all the things she could have done differently if she had invested more. 

Granted, in some contexts like researching medical treatments, the qualities of a maximizer would be helpful. In some large decisions, just good enough is not good enough. However, its important as a presenter to remember that you can always spend more time, but at what cost? You have to remember to draw the line somewhere. This is where we can learn some valuable lesson from the satisficers.

Satisficers: Good Enough Leads to Happiness

“Satisficer” is a strange word, right? It’s a word made from the combination of “satisfy” and “suffice.” The ‘satisficing’ concept was first used by Nobel Prize winner Herbert A. Simon in his 1956 paper, “Rational Choice and the Structure of the Environment.”

Choi gives the following qualities of satisficers:

  • accept good enough
  • don’t obsess over other options
  • can move on after decisions
  • happier with outcomes

Like maximizers, satisficers want to make good decisions. They aren’t irresponsible, uninvolved, or uniformed. They just aren’t hyper-extending themselves to the breaking point and risking their quality of life as a result. 

When it comes time to work on your presentation, it’s probably best to adopt the healthy qualities of both the maximizer and the satisficer. We might even propose that you become a maximicer. 

Strive to make your presentation great. Aim for excellence. But also realize the point at which your extra energy isn’t worth the dissatisfaction it might lead to. You know, the whole law of diminishing returns, thing. Push for great, but not for perfect. And when you’ve made the decisions you’ve made for your presentation, relax and be satisfied with them. Everyone, every time could have used a better word or delivered something better. Evaluate, grow, and then let it go. 

We love to take the best of scientific research and apply it to the world of presentations. Ready to learn how Ethos3 can help you with presentation training or design?


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