Study: Too much information dilutes your message

Attention PR pros, speechwriters and communicators, presenting a lot of points to back up your key message will do more harm than good.

Sometimes, more really is less.

A study released last month revealed that gift givers tended to believe that giving more would be perceived by the receiver more positively than receiving less. Giving a cashmere sweater plus a $10 gift card, for example, would be viewed by the recipient as being better than receiving the sweater by itself. Not so fast, researchers say.

“The gift recipient is likely to perceive the cashmere sweater alone as more generous than the combination of the same sweater and the gift card,” they say. This happens because recipients tend to follow “an averaging strategy.” Adding a small gift to a big one, in other words, tend to cheapen the whole bundle.

Interestingly enough, the same behavior applies to speeches and presentations. People who present a lot of proof points to back up their key messages often assume that adding every bit of evidence to the presentation will bolster their case. Research suggests otherwise.

“The addition of mildly favorable information dilutes the impact of highly favorable information in the eyes of evaluators,” says Stephen Garcia, an associate professor at the University of Michigan. “Hence, presenters of information would be better off if they limited their presentation to their most favorable information—just as gift givers would be better off to limit their present to their most favorite gift.”

The bottom line for speechwriters and all communicators? Use your biggest ammunition and use it wisely, and ignore the call to include vats of proof points.

Call it amplification through simplification.

Fletcher Dean is director, executive speechwriting, for Dow Chemical Co. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Speechwriting 2.0.

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