The Framing Effect & How to Use it in Your Next Presentation

It’s the age-old question: is the glass half full or half empty? According to the framing effect, telling our audience the glass is half full means they’ll have a more positive opinion of the glass itself. As you can imagine, this effect is a powerful tool in your presentation arsenal!

Depending on the type of presentation you’re preparing for, one of your goals might be getting your audience to either change how they think about something, or to have an opinion on a particular topic, object, or idea.

And with the framing effect, you have the power to actually frame the presentation topic in the direction of your choice.

The framing effect and cognitive bias

As any seasoned presenter will tell you, one of the challenges you’ll come up against with an audience is their cognitive bias. Any given audience comes into a presentation with a certain set of beliefs or ideas about different topics.

As a presenter, it’s your job to not only share accurate, reliable information, but to frame it in a way that helps your audience think of that information in either a positive or negative way, depending on your goals and despite their inherent biases.

If you want your audience to make decisions or form opinions, you can influence these decisions or opinions by framing the information you share in a particular way–AKA, the framing effect.

But it’s important not to conflate the framing effect with misrepresenting information or misleading your audience.

Rather, it’s a way of framing that same information in a way that makes it more or less attractive to the audience, depending on the desired outcome of your presentation.

The framing effect in action

Consider this example.

Sally goes to the grocery store because she has a craving for chocolate chip cookies.

She sees two boxes of cookies on the shelf for the same price. Both have attractive packaging and the same amount of cookies.

But one box says “15% Less Fat.” The other box says, “85% Fat.”

Which box of cookies do you think she’ll choose? If she’s like the vast majority of people, she’ll go with the 15% less fat option.

Let’s look at another example.

You compete in a bowling tournament with ten other bowlers in your league.

You place 9th out of 10 bowlers. Rather than saying you’re the second worst bowler in your league, positive framing would have you announcing you are the ninth best bowler in your league.

Using the framing effect during presentations

Now, if you’re presenting to an audience with the goal of persuading your audience one way or another, there are a few different ways you can use the framing effect.

The auditory frame

Let’s say you’re speaking to an audience without any visual aids, like graphic or text. In this case, it will be up to your auditory presenting skills to get the job done.

Here are some things to keep in mind to frame your content according to your goals:

  • Asking questions: It’s generally best to ask your audience questions at a slower pace. Otherwise, it comes off aggressively and can frame your content negatively.
  • Confidence: Whether you’re asking questions or stating facts, doing so with a confident tone of voice goes a long way to frame your audience’s opinions of your content.
  • Stating facts: Unlike asking questions, quickly stating facts can be useful to you. Of course, you won’t want to share them so quickly your audience can’t absorb them! But using volume and power with your voice is a useful tactic for sharing information with your audience.

The visual frame

If your presentation includes visual elements, there are plenty of ways the framing effect can come into play.

Imagine you’re presenting a new men’s running shoe model to a crowd of men. The shoe itself is white with black detailing.

In one image, you frame the photo of the shoe with a pink, floral border. On the other side, you frame that very same image with a bold blue frame.

While there are no concrete rules that say pink is for women and blue is for men, studies do show that men find the color blue most appealing.

So in this case, if you want to use visual framing to appeal to your male audience, going for the image with the blue frame would be the better choice.

The body language frame

No matter what you’re presenting or the goal of your presentation, keeping your body language in mind is critical.

Your body language can frame how the audience interprets your content.

Think about the last presentation you sat through.

How did the presenter come across? Did they stand up straight and portray confidence? Or were they hunched over, low energy, and looking down at the ground?

Now, compare their body language to how you felt coming away from the presentation.

If they used strong, confident body language, it likely framed the entire experience in a more positive light for you.

Conversely, if their body language came across as them being disinterested or disengaged, you likely have a negative view of the same presentation.

In fact, you could come away from two presentations, both with the exact some content, but with two different presenters, and have an entirely different opinion on the presentation based on the body language that was used.

The next time you’re presenting think about not only “what” you’re presenting, but “how” you’re presenting and “who” you’re presenting too. It could make a dramatic difference in the effectiveness of your session.

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