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Brain Freeze – Fix the Paralyzing Problem of Too Many Choices

Shoving too many choices down the throats of customers and audiences has the same brain-numbing effect as a brain freeze. Here’s how to fix the paralyzing problem of too many choices that can kill your conference, event or marketing.

You know how it feels. You’re shoveling ice cream in as fast as you can and your head explodes with pain: brain freeze. Technically, it’s called “sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia,” which is enough to paralyze your brain all on its own! That’s what happens when we force people to deal with too many choices in conferences, events and marketing.

We Love Choices

Let’s face it, we love choices. Give me options and I’ll take the responsibility of pleasing myself. As companies and associations, we like to think that our customers and audiences will appreciate it if we give them more choices. So we end up with 25-page restaurant menus, 1200 shades of house paint and more than 100 workshop options.

We Can’t Handle Options

But in reality, we like the idea of lots of choices … but hate actually having them. Human beings are creatures of habit. We don’t use the vast majority of choices we have. In 2016, the average U.S. home got about 206 TV channels. How many did we actually watch? One survey says 20! We don’t even check out more than five other channels, if we explore at all, which is bad news for the 24-hour chicken-wrestling channel.

Too Many Choices

Have you heard of the Famous Jam Experiment? In 1995, Sheena Iyengar, a renowned psychologist at Columbia University, set up a display of jams in a gourmet food shop. On the first day she offered samples of six flavors. The next day she offered samples of 30 different flavors. Her findings rattled lots of corporate cages.

6 flavors – Most people tasted two.

30 flavors – Most people tasted two.

Even though more people were attracted by the big assortment only 3 percent bought a jar. More people bought from the smaller display! Here’s something that’s even more revealing. Of the people who made a purchase, the ones who had only six choices actually felt more satisfied with their selections.

Fix the Paralyzing Problem

When faced with too many choices, we will actually make bad decisions just to get it done.

Over the past 23+ years, more psychologists and economists studied the issue and came to the same conclusion: Decision paralysis isn’t caused by too many choices. It’s caused by not enough relevant choices.

Your solution is to focus on what customers or attendees need to get what they want and not on what’s convenient for you. In the article “How to Piss Off An Audience and Drive Them Away” we focused on how ever attendee or customer demands to be seen as unique. They want an individual experience that’s tuned to their business and professional needs. Don’t deliver one-size-fits-all events or marketing!

The goal is to generate value and results. Reduce the options to the least number required to satisfy their individual needs.

Creating Relevant Choices

Focus on the results and not the choices – First, recognize that everyone isn’t the same. Break your attendees or customers into segments based on what is relevant and important to them. Then focus on the results they receive from the choices – not the choices themselves. Why attempt to give people a choice before they have any way to understand what value you offer?

Next, customize choices – If you have lots of options, give people a way to eliminate the non-relevant ones. We love to have things our way. Do people really need 60 workshops? How do they find the ones they want?

Present a path – If you know your customers or attendees, then you know what they want to happen. Give them a clear, easy-to-follow path to a comfortable, satisfying result.

Make it easy to decide – Group relevant choices together. This is how people make decisions. Create content tracks or product combinations to reduce the noise and distractions. Too many meaningless choices are confusing.

Value-Based Options

Enduring marathon sessions with unfocused content and a herd of unmemorable speakers isn’t a valuable experience. Sifting through dozens of workshop choices isn’t a valuable experience. Navigating menus of services that focus on what you “might do” isn’t as value as a clear plan to deliver the specific results the client needs. The big idea is to make choices simple, related and relevant. “If I want these results, I need to do X, Y and Z.”

Back to the Brain Freeze

My mom had a sure-fire remedy for a brain freeze eat smaller bites. She told us to slow down and not go so fast. “Give yourself time to taste the ice cream and enjoy every bite.” Well, it seems that Sheena Iyengar agrees. “More is less. More choices don’t lead to more satisfaction, fulfillment or happiness.”

Your goal is simple: create the least number choices required to satisfy your attendees’ needs.

Let’s spend 15 minutes talking about your next project or challenge. Just click on CONTACT US or send an email to and get in touch.


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About the Author
Andy Johnston is a multi-faceted communication professional who has a comfortable way of working with people. Andy is an Emmy Award winning communicator known for his energy, humor, creativity and his unique ability to discover the key results that must be generated – and then to develop ingenious ways to engage and motivate audiences. He has broad experience in strategic planning, messaging, creative direction, marketing, and events. One of the things Andy says often is, “How can we make it better?”
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