Should you present first or last?

In an enterprise software sales process, the buyer (customer) typically invites a list of vendors to do a presentation effectively arguing their case to be selected as the vendor of choice. The process might involve one or more rounds of presentations/POC’s with the list of vendors shrinking with each round. Now if you are an invited vendor, “Is there a distinct advantage in presenting first versus last?”

Similarly, you are one of the candidate amongst multiple candidates being interviewed for a job. Given a choice, should you pick an interview slot that is first in line or last in line? Or, if you are offered the choice of speaking first or last in a public speaking contest, should you speak first or last?

Well, the answer is: it depends on the context. Decision Makers do not perceive and remember material in isolation; they interpret new information in light of past experience and the context in which the material occurs.

Primacy versus Recency Effect

When evaluating sequential information (as list of vendor presentation), people might get more influenced by the first presentation and this pattern is known as a “primacy effect“. In some instances, the final presentation has more more influence than the first presentation. Such a pattern is known as the “recency effect“. Now the question is which effect is more dominant and in which situations.

Norman Miller and Donald Campbell used a plaintiff (pro) and defendant (con) court trial arguments and set-up the eight experimental scenarios as shown in the figure below.

Primacy Recency Effect

After listening to arguments, subjects rendered judgement either in favor of pro or con argument and that’s what we mean by “response” in the figure above. For instance, in scenario one, subjects listened to the pro argument immediately followed by the con argument and then were asked to provide a judgement. However, in scenario three, there was one week delay after both side of arguments were presented before the subjects were asked to render a judgement.

The Results

Researchers found that between scenarios one and two, there was no primacy/recency effect. And similarly, there was no primacy/recency impact in scenarios seven versus eight.

However, between scenario three and four, where subjects rendered judgement after one week delay of listening to pro/con arguments, they found a strong evidence of primary effect. In scenarios five and six, where the subjects had one week delay between the pro and con argument, but where asked to render judgement immediately after listening to second argument, recency effect occurred.


Based on the results above, we can answer the questions posed in the beginning, namely:

  • Is there a distinct advantage in presenting first versus last?
  • Should you pick an interview slot that is first in line or last in line?
  • Should you speak first or last?

You should present, interview or speak first, if the others will follow you immediately and there will be a delay between the series of presentations and the judgment or decision because of primacy effect.

On the other hand, you should present, interview or speak last, if there will be a delay between the presentations or interviews and the decision-makers will need to render judgment or decision right after the last presentation or interview because of recency effect. From my sales experience, such scenarios happen quite often, where customers will schedule vendor presentations separated by time and then render judgement fairly quickly after the last presentation. So if you are involved in enterprise sales, think about the recency effect when offered a choice to pick a presentation slot.


2 responses to “Should you present first or last?

  1. Naren,

    I am in total agreement with your post… with one caveat.

    The last presentation is often the one that sticks to mind but, if your pitch is highly differented, the first slot has the opportunity to plant “bombs” against the “competition”. You can stress that your is uniquely positioned because and that others are not as good at doing

    There is merit here at presenting first when you can orient the conversation where it will definitely be at your advantage. If all contestants are pretty much equivalent, this opportunity is wasted of course.

    In any case, this is fascinating!


  2. Naren,
    I would add a specific scenario to Carole-Ann’s “bomb” reference. If you have a significantly superior technology (and this does happen sometimes) I recommend you go first and set the bar high, very high. The evaluator will often provide a series of use cases for the vendors to demonstrate. When you present, make sure you do all these cases to perfection (i.e. rehearse the script), then show how the prospect can then go beyond the scope of the case to meet other objectives they are considering for future implementation.

    This obviously requires a lot of up front discovery and dialog with the prospect, but once you show you can meet all the basics and easily handle the follow on requirements (often ones the competition has trouble with or cannot do at all), you set yourself on very high ground. When you have a strong hand, play the leader.


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