As we travel around meeting people, we are often reminded of that fact that our own individual perceptions and preferences can impact on how we each respond to information.
This lesson was once again brought home to me yesterday when I went for a run with a friend. She and I were enjoying what was a lovely Canberra winter morning, spending time in some of the city's beautiful nature reserves and catching up on each other's lives.
However, for my friend we were also completing her longest run in quite some time and she was avidly keeping an eye on how far we had come and how far we still had to go.
At one stage when we were clearly on our way back to our starting point, my friend asked me again to tell her how much further we had to run. When I looked at my GPS I was pleased to see we only had four kilometres to go, which in the scheme of our whole run seemed like a small distance to me.
When I told my friend the distance, she thought about it for a moment and then said: "Even if I run slowly, that only leaves about 28 minutes to run and I feel like I can run for that length of time."
With this one statement, my friend completely changed my perception of how far we still had to go. I suddenly went from feeling upbeat about the distance left to wanting to sit down on the ground and cry as I now felt like we had an impossible task in front of us.
What caused this change in my mindset - my friend looking at distance differently from me. For me four kilometres was a short distance, but the idea we still had to run for another half an hour seemed insurmountable. My friend however, preferred to think about distance in terms of the time it would take.
If you are trying to share facts and figures with an audience, it is worth remembering we are all different. This is especially important if it is a fact and figure you know well and understand. Remember your audience will not have the same knowledge you do and will layer their own perceptions over what you are saying.
For example, say your organisation has updated a form clients need to fill in and now it takes 10 minutes to complete. You may know it used to take 20 minutes and announce the 10 minutes required as a positive. You might say something like: "It will now only take 10 minutes for you to complete this form and register with our organisation."
What you need to think about is how your audience might respond. Possibly some will think: "Well there is 10 minutes of my life I am never getting back. I don't understand why businesses always make it hard to work with them."
Therefore, you need to structure your message so it has context to your audience. If 10 minutes to fill a form in is an improvement, you need to make that clear. Your message might be more successful if it is along the lines of: "We are committed to making it easier for our customers to work with us. Therefore, we have simplified our registration form and halved the time it takes to complete." With this type of message you are delivering the same information - it took 20 minutes to complete the form, now it takes 10 - but you are limiting the risk of people responding to the information differently than you would like them to.