In RW Connect’s Quant Essentials series, we discuss critical methodological skills in simple, jargon-free language. The first article in the series, What Is Quantitative Research? gives some more background about Quant Essentials. Our second article was about research design and our third, sampling. Next, we covered questionnaire design, data analysis and multivariate analysis. This is our final article, and it’s about presentation and reporting.
Marketing researchers give various kinds of presentations. Some are part of training on research methodology or software, or pertain to proprietary methodologies their company has developed. Training presentations usually require a substantial amount of preparation.
For seminars on proprietary techniques, you probably won’t have to develop the presentation materials yourself but will still need to understand the method in considerable detail. Moreover, what can be disclosed about the method and what must be kept confidential is sometimes a judgment call. Clients may ask probing questions even though it’s been made clear that the method is standardized and cannot be modified according to their wishes. They may wonder how and why the method differs from competitors’ products or, in rare cases, (I suspect) would like to back-engineer it and run it themselves.
I’ve also given many company credentials presentations. Though at first I had the jitters, these kinds of presentations are typically highly scripted and usually not that hard once you’ve done a few.
More typically, I have presented the results of research I’ve been closely involved with from the beginning. Unfortunately, I’ve also been brought in as a pinch hitter to present the results of projects I had not worked on, often with little or no time to prepare. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, be certain the client is aware that you have not been involved since they might assume you have been working behind the scenes.
Let’s face it, there are natural presenters, and good presenters usually present frequently. They gain confidence and are able to project authority. They will have fewer anxious moments in the Q&A session, because the audience will normally be more reluctant to challenge them with tough questions. They also learn how to anticipate questions the audience might ask and build these questions and their answers into the presentation.
Below are a few more tips I’ve picked up along the way. Most pertain to presentations of research findings, but many will also apply to other kinds of presentations.
- Never just try to wing it. If you have the chance to do a dress rehearsal with colleagues, grab it
- Learn about the audience, especially who the key players will be and their expectations for the research and presentation
- Understand that style and appearance are not all that matter to your client. Clients are less impressed by style than many of us may think. Don’t be self-conscious and fret about every word you choose and every gesture you make
- That said, if you’re going to present in a country you don’t know much about, it’s wise to check in advance with local contacts about cultural matters such as dress and body language, as well as the degree of formality that is customary in that nation. Be careful not to speak too fast, and try to avoid slang
- Don’t prepare masses of slides, all number tables or confusing graphics. A jumbled mix of both is usually the worst combination! On the other hand, don’t spend lots of time making arty slides only you understand, either. Remember that people not in attendance may read the presentation at some point and will need to make sense of it from the slides alone
- Don’t go into great depth about methodology. This will distract the audience from the main objectives of the presentation and will invite irrelevant questions
- Don’t focus on details, by just reading numbers off the slides, for example. Learn what hypotheses – even informal ones – the client has about their brand or category when the research is being designed
- You may be tired of hearing about storytelling by now. However, it’s critical to structure the flow of your presentation so that it fits the client’s priorities and decisions they are contemplating. What you’re saying must make sense to them
- Watch Susan Cain present
My preference is to keep presentations and reports short and focused on the business objectives and key findings. Nonessential “nice-to-know” results can be included in an appendix or a database which can be accessed quickly by tabulation and graphics software.
Understanding the client’s expectations and tailoring your report and presentation accordingly – within reason – is good practice. However, if your report and presentation are part of a standardized, proprietary offer, you will have little leeway. In these circumstances, it should be made clear to the client beforehand that you will not be able to customize the deliverable.
I haven’t mentioned remote presentations and webinars, which are now very common. The software you use and the quality of the internet connections for all parties – frequently unpredictable – can have a big impact on how smoothly the presentation or training session goes. Not being able to see your audience and their reactions, and sluggish connections can be hard to get used to. Know your software, and do a test run if you can.
This has only been a snapshot of a huge topic, but we hope you’ve found it and the Quant Essentials series interesting and helpful!
Kevin Gray, Marketing Research, Statistics and Data Science Subcontracting and Consulting
Kevin Gray is President of Cannon Gray, a marketing science and analytics consultancy. He also co-hosts the audio podcast series MR Realities.