Nothing can kill Superman. Except Kryptonite. And except if he sees the recent Batman vs. Superman movie. That would kill him for sure.

At least according to my brother, who clearly did not appreciate this recent comic books adaptation. Talking to him I had a feeling, he felt strongly that leaving the show half-way might just be the right thing to do…

But he did not.

Why? If the movie was crap, even for a die-hard comic book fan, who really tried to find the positives, but failed, he stayed. Wouldn’t you leave? Probably not.

Think about it. You already paid for the ticket. You planned the evening. You took the trip to the cinema. That’s quite a bit of sunken costs.

So, mostly likely, you would stay. Because leaving mid-movie would be accepting the fact that you have just wasted money, time and effort. And human beings hate to lose these. In fact, we fear loss in any shape and form.

We fear loss in any shape and form

This phenomenon was researched extensively by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in their 1979′ paper Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk. They concluded that given the possibility of taking risk or action, we are motivated stronger by a potential loss than a potential gain. This is bias is called Loss aversion.

People need a reason to listen to you. They will not figure this out on their own. You have to tell them why.

In other words, given an opportunity, you would rather keep your 20 bucks, than lose them having a chance at winning 40.

Reason? As usual. Survival. From survival’s perspective it was much wiser to keep what we have at all cost, minimizing the risk.

How we apply these findings to crafting our message when speaking or communicating?

People need a reason to listen to you. They will not figure this out on their own. You have to tell them why. Thanks to Kahneman and Tversky you now know, that focusing on potential loses the audience can suffer by NOT paying attention, can reap great rewards for you as a speaker. So…

How to nail your next presentation

Use our natural aversion to loss to stimulate attention during your presentation. We won’t be able to resist. Make sure you follow these few guidelines to make it most effective.

1. Paint a vivid picture

Early in the communication, preferably in the introduction, paint a vivid picture of potential losses, missed opportunities, less favorable future, bad choices or downfall of our career. You name it.

Use a story or a metaphor. Be descriptive. Help us see and feel what can be lost if we do not grant you our attention.

2. Make sure it is relevant

Make it well-connected with your topic and your solution to our newly recognized pain. For example, I often talk about missing out on opportunities in life, if you are not able to communicate clearly, effectively and with confidence. This connects well with the solutions I have in stock, and opens listeners up for my communication.

3. Put it in between the lines

It does not have to be obnoxious and obvious. Be sneaky. Sprinkle a bit of pain here and there. But make sure we feel the pain of potential loss, if we don’t listen or apply your solution.

One of the best ways to do it is to use an example. A third-party story of some other person, who did not follow and lost something as an outcome. You are not very direct by telling someone’s story aren’t you?

Wrapping it up

Being aware of how loss aversion works can have significant effect on your life. It helps you make more educated decisions. It helps you to better understand your own behavior and act accordingly. Most importantly, it can help you to motivate others to act accordingly.

We are wired to avoid loss. Use that wire to have people pay attention as you speak and give the sense of urgency to your message.

Now tell me:

  • What techniques do you use to grab audiences attention?
  • How will you use loss aversion in your next speech or presentation?
  • What can your audience lose if they do not listen to you?

Leave a comment now.

Wojciech is a trainer, teacher and life-long learner on the topic of effective communication. He believes that speaking clearly, effectively and with confidence is essential to our success and taking advantage of all life’s opportunities. READ MORE
  • If audience is tired and distracted it is good to ask the question at the beginning of presentation “Sorry. Whose wallet it is?” and show it. In truth it is your wallet, but you only want to grab their attention at the beginning. I guarantee that audience will be focused 🙂

    • Great tip right there. That is surely playing into loss aversion: “Have I lost my wallet?”. The only issue I have with it, is that it is merely a trick, and it is not related to the actual content. Now, you can make it work, with some personal charm and charisma, but it may also back-fire. As the laughter which follows fades away the audience realizes that you had to use a trick to get them interested, because perhaps your actual content is not. However I see some great application in this one, especially if I would talk about Loss Aversion as a topic. Then this would prove to be a great intro which ties into my content. Just a thought.