I climbed to the summit of Mount Stupid on October 15th 2007. At the time I was attending a course on presentation design/delivery sponsored by IBM. I was looking for some “tips” to improve my presentations. But I didn’t believe that the course would offer much. After all, I had been presenting for years. I was very confident I was a good presenter. And yet, by the end of the first day of that course, I fell into the Valley of Despair (see below). I realized, even after all the years of experience, I knew almost nothing about giving presentations. I was a living breathing example of the Dunning Kruger effect.

(Graphic and terminology adapted from the Xonitek blog, Lessons from Mt. Stupid)

When people are incompetent in the strategies they adopt to achieve success and satisfaction, they suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.                                                                                  Dunning and Kruger

David Dunning and Justin Kruger first observed the effect in a series of experiments in 1999. They were psychologists in the department of psychology at Cornell University. They found that people can grossly overestimate their ability in some skill areas. This phenomenon of over-estimating competence was seen in a wide range of skills. This included things like the practice of medicine to playing chess. I believe the Dunning-Kruger effect is also seen in giving presentations.

Surveys of participants of my “Win Your Presentation” workshops show evidence of the effect. The surveys often show a good level of confidence in their presentation skills. This is often contrary to the level of training and knowledge in these same skill areas. Also, surveys show presenters rate the majority of presentations they attend as audience members as only OK or even boring. Again, this is in contrast to how they rate themselves. These contradictions are seen across a wide range of presenting experience.

The Dunning – Kruger Effect could be a major barrier to improvement for many presenters. Presenters under the Effect, may be the cause of the infamous “death by PowerPoint”. They don’t know what they don’t know. And since they don’t know, they have no way of assessing their own skill level.

Since that day in October of 2007 I have been climbing the Slope of Enlightenment. The goal of my “Win Your Presentation” workshops is to help others reach the summit of Mount Stupid. They can then descend to the Valley of Despair. It’s only then they can begin their climb up the Slope of Enlightenment. The result being a knowledge and skill level where they can go out and win their presentations.

See you on Mount Stupid?

Joe Pops