Pay attention to your audience’s System 1 vs. System 2 thinking as you prep for a presentation. It will pay off.

Especially if your audience is executives.

Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking Fast and Slow” provides great insight into how our minds work.

System 1 thinking is when we’re operating on intuition, heuristics, and emotion. This is the realm of lightning-fast judgements. We spend most of our time here as we conserve energy.

System 2 thinking is our logical, deliberate processing of information and coming to conclusions. This effort is harder for us to sustain.

We move from System 1 to System 2 whenever we need to pay more attention or work out a hard problem.

When you’re presenting in a business context, you’re going to be sharing many things that fit your audience’s pre-conceived notions of the world and the business. Sales Results they expect, strategies they already know and approve of, tactics they are familiar with, etc.

These are all easy. They only require System 1 thinking. You’re in the clear. You won’t get pushback, or even many questions (some may even start to nod off if you go on too long). You should move through these quickly, so you don’t bore your audience.

But usually there’s at least something you need to present that will be new and challenging. Or else why would you be presenting? It could be a change in market conditions, the strategy isn’t working anymore, the sudden need for more capacity, etc.

As soon as you present this, your audience is going to switch from system 1 to system 2. They will focus and start digesting and processing the information in a logical, conscious way. Get ready for the “long drill bit” to come out.

A past boss of mine always said that execs have a “long drill bit”. Any time they detected some sort of inconsistency in your argument or something that didn’t make sense they would start to ask a lot of questions. This was described as having a “long drill bit.” This is their system 2 getting to work.

So, know your audience and how they think, prep backup slides for system 2 sections and fly through your system 1 sections as fast as reasonable. You’ll be more effective, and your audience will appreciate your attention to their context and the way they think. Even if they don’t realize consciously.

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