Anchoring bias: the stone that sinks your courage

You remember it as if it were yesterday: at school, this restitution in the amphitheatre, in front of 50 people... where you made a fool of yourself. Your ears get hot just thinking about it. You survived it, of course; but since that day, you know it: you are not good at oral presentation.

5 years later, the nightmare: your manager offered to present your latest project in front of your entire department. This would add a lot of value to your work, and make you more visible - if only you were good at oral presentations. So the solution naturally makes its way into your mind: the surest way to avoid another failure is still not to try. Your manager will be able to make the presentation, you'll be content with your name at the bottom of slide 87.


What's going on in your head: Anchoring bias

Here you face a sneaky succession of three cognitive biases. To begin with, the anchoring bi as ensures that your first impression, that of your bad experience, remains firmly imprinted in your mind as a point of reference: I completely missed my restitution in 2015, so I am bad at presentation. Behind it, the attention bi as will turn this first impression into a filter. Since you can't forget your failure, you will tend to pay attention only to the things you do badly, at every opportunity: I use my hands too much, I stutter, I repeated the same word three times. And finally, icing on the cake, the confirmation bias will cement all those bad impressions. Since you have focused on the negative, your brain will use this perception to confirm and even weigh down the initial anchor: I was right to think I was bad, I only made mistakes this time.

According to B.J. Fogg (discussed in the 1st article in the series), behaviour is triggered at the intersection of three factors: Behaviour = Motivation x Capacity x Trigger. Even if you are fully motivated, you will be paralyzed if you don't feel sufficiently capable of performing the action. Consequence: no action.

These biases have an impact on your sense of ability through distortion: you have an incomplete, biased picture of reality. To get out of this vicious circle, and since you cannot trust your own perception, remove the subjective factor: rather than looking for a sense of success, value the effort.


Nudges to the rescue: quantify your effort and make it worthwhile

Anchoring bias is resilient: of course, you only get one chance to make a first impression... But it is possible to divert your attention and confirmation bias, until you succeed in dissociating the way your first restitution experience went, and your general ability to speak in public. To do this: focus on the actions taken to improve your presentations, and not on the perceived quality of those presentations.


Our advice: From now on, quantify the actions you take to improve your presentation.

Why? Quantifying your effort will have a double benefit. Not only does it allow you to make the action finished, i.e. you define the conditions for the success of your action. But on top of that, it is a protection to avoid minimizing your effort: you can always have a false perception of your level, but not of a concrete action!

How? You can, for example, define a duration: for 15 minutes, an hour, half a day... or a number of occurrences, for example: during your next three meetings.


Thanks to this very simple method, you re-appropriate your anchor and turn it to your advantage. Rather than a fatality, it will be a starting point: I did not shine during my 2015 restitution; but since then, I have made a lot of effort !