For the last few years I have been trying to significantly improve my presentations and have as part of that process been running a growing number of workshops on presenting. This post, and several of the posts that will follow it address issues that I think market researchers need to tackle to improve their presentations.
When market researchers talk about presentations, and in particular how to improve their presentations, four names crop up with regularity:
- Edward Tufte, the originator of the term death by PowerPoint
- Seth Godin, “No more than six words on a slide, EVER”
- David McCandless, the Infograprachics man behind InformationIsBeautiful
- Garr Reynolds, author of PresentationZen
All of these people are great presenters/communicators and have taken the art forwards. But there is a problem for people trying to learn from them, they disagree massively with each other in terms of what they recommend. They disagree because they are doing different things, and to make life harder for market researchers, none of them is doing what market researchers do in a debrief.
To quickly review what these four experts are saying:
Edward Tufte is trying to convey the maximum amount of data to the audience, so the audience can process it and come to a conclusion. Indeed he recommends that before a meeting, hand out the data as pages of text and numbers on A4, ask everybody to read it, and then have the meeting. In most market research debriefs the client is paying the researcher to present their findings, not to hand over the data for the client to discover the findings.
Seth Godin says “The purpose of a presentation is to change minds.” Godin can restrict himself to less than 6 words per slide, no numbers, and stark images because he is 99% of the message. Godin says XYZ and people believe it (or not) because ‘Seth says so’, not because of some research, chart, or data. Market researchers are there to convey insight to help a better business decision be made, not to make the decision. The basis for the recommendation from the researcher is the research, so it needs to play more than 1% of the role in the debrief (I will discuss how much of a role in later posts).
David McCandless produces complex and engaging infographics, the best of which convey more information than a traditional graphic and do so in ways that are stimulating and engaging. However, most of these infographics are not tools for a debrief. They often work better for a solitary reader, for somebody who has time to look, to think, and mull over the information being shown.
PresentationZen. I have to admit, I am a major fan of Garr Reynolds and I find his material easier to use in a market research context than that from say Tufte and Godin. However, Reynolds is used to an environment where there is time and budget to get the presentation right. At one point in his book, PresentationZen, he makes the comment about spending several extra days on the slides to get them just right. However, market researchers often have only one or two days for the analysis, the story finding, and the creation of the presentation – this requires the researcher to cut corners.
Why are market research debriefs special?
There are several feature of a classic market research debrief that make it quite unlike the sorts of situation that the likes of Tufte, Godin, McCandless and even Reynolds are talking about. Market researchers can still learn from these sources, but they need to adapt the techniques to the needs of the situation and the audiences.
The key differences, in the context of a typical, 30-60 minute, end of project debrief are:
- There will be different groups within the audience, ranging from an insight manager who is interested in the detail to a senior person who just wants to know the key findings and action points.
- The researcher will only have a limited amount of time to prepare the analysis, the story, and the presentation – ranging from one day to perhaps ten days.
- Most presentations will only be delivered once, reducing the ability of the presenter to fine tune the material.
- Some clients want the presentation to double as the deliverable.
- Some clients have a strong sense of what a debrief should look like, e.g. background, objectives, findings, and then conclusions.
- A large part of the legitimacy of the findings is based on the research, so the research will have to play a non-negligible part in the debrief.
- Because of the lack of time and because of the need to include the research (some of it) in the presentation it is normally not possible for the presenter to memorise ALL the key points and facts, which results in some of them having to be spelled out on the slides.
In the next few posts on presenting I will cover how market researchers can address these special requirements. By borrowing and blending from the experts and by adopting some sensible tricks of the trade market researchers can massively improve their presentations.