For an analyst, some market research projects end when the final report goes out the door. But there are other occasions when researchers are called upon to cap off the project with an in-person presentation of the findings to a group. Such presentations are a great way to present the findings in a more accessible, easier to understand format to a wider group of people than would normally read a report. Unfortunately, they can also be a source of stress for some researchers. Frankly, many people are drawn to careers as analysts precisely because they are more comfortable doing the often solitary, behind the scenes work of crunching numbers and writing reports. Presenting (while a crucial skill to develop) takes many analysts out of their normal comfort zones.
The good news is that there are some simple guidelines one can follow that will make presentations more calming and productive for both the presenter and the audience. Here are seven tips, based on years of experience, that I think will help improve any research presentation:
1. Know your audience – Going into any presentation, you should have an idea of who you will be addressing, their general tolerance for numbers-heavy research jargon, their preference for in-depth discussion or a quick overview, and two or three key points that they will be most interested in hearing about in-depth.
2. Consider the size of the audience – As a general rule of thumb, the larger the group, the more structured the readout will need to be. If you’re sitting around a table with a small number of stakeholders, you can take a fairly conversational approach, stopping to answer questions as you go. If you’re addressing a few dozen, the best approach will be to treat the presentation more like a prepared speech with visual aids and wait until the end to take questions.
3. Acknowledge the possible limitations of your methodology – It may seem counterintuitive, but the best way to gain credibility and disarm skeptics and naysayers who may be in your audience is to preface your findings by acknowledging that no research methodology is perfect and by pointing out any limitations inherent in the approach you took. That doesn’t mean you should trash your own work – only that you should point out things like a survey’s margin of error upfront. Most people will appreciate your candor and become less defensive once they realize you’re not trying to pass your findings off as indisputable.
4. Be mindful of how some findings might put members of the audience on the defensive – Market research, by its nature, often highlights the areas where part of an organization is underperforming. That can make for an awkward situation when people from that part of the organization are sitting in on the presentation. No one likes to be told they are doing a bad job, especially not by an outside consultant. The best way to deal with that situation is to emphasize the idea that the research should be a tool that starts the process of improvement going forward rather than a scorecard of past shortcomings. Diplomatic use of language is key. Avoid terms like “worst” or “weakest.” Let the graphs and the numbers speak for themselves.
5. Try to have all the information on hand, BUT don’t panic if a question comes up that you can’t answer – If you are presenting to a client who paid you to do research, they will naturally expect you to have command of your facts – and of course you will. But some studies are so comprehensive that you won’t have every finding or every detail of the methodology committed to memory. Usually you will have that information on hand in the materials you have with you, but if a question comes up and for whatever reason, the answer isn’t readily available, don’t get rattled, start rambling or, worst of all, start trying to fake your way through an answer. Those things will destroy your credibility. You should never be afraid of saying that you’ll need to look the information up and get back to the questioner later on. (Just make sure to do exactly that and follow-up!)
6. Technological glitches happen. Have a backup plan – PowerPoint and other modern presentation tools are wonderful things, but sometimes the AV equipment doesn’t want to work. Sometimes your laptop crashes at the worst possible moment. It’s always a good idea to bring along printed copies of your presentation and other visual aids that you can use when the high-tech stuff fails.
7. Remember that most of the people in your audience are on your side – Organizations commission research because they want questions answered. When you come to give them the answers in person, they will naturally be interested in what you have to say. They will also be rooting for your presentation to be successful. Nobody wants to sit through a bad presentation, so they would like it to be engaging and to have everything go off smoothly. They aren’t just an audience, they are supporters. Remembering that simple fact goes a long way toward overcoming the jitters and maintaining confidence in front of a group.
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