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Communicate don't complicate. How to effectively communicate insights

As an industry, market research generates huge swathes of information. From ‘Big Data’ and long running quantitative tracking studies through to qualitative insights, and all of the desk research and workshop outputs in between, information is our currency. However, I can’t help thinking that our industry is guilty of devaluing that same information on a regular basis.

Who hasn’t been forced to sit through a presentation filled with dense, text heavy PowerPoint slides and struggled to stay switched on? And, conversely, how many of us have been left scratching our heads trying to decipher a report that consists of nothing more than a handful of loosely linked images? When information is presented badly the best case is that your message is received but your audience is left disengaged. At worst, the message is simply lost altogether.  This isn’t a new issue but it’s a recurrent theme, and one that is worthy of revisiting as data sets become increasingly complicated.

One of my favourite examples of how not to write a PowerPoint slide is a ‘summary’ slide depicting the American military’s strategic response to the war in Afghanistan. This slide haunts me. It also brilliantly exemplifies how a complicated message, presented in a complicated way, can quickly become meaningless.

 So where did the author of this particular slide go wrong? Whether it’s a short informal presentation or a 2 hour session with the board, the same rules for presentations apply – and, as with everything, they’re surprisingly simple:

  1. Consider your audience. Why is your message relevant to them? And, what do they already know? Use this understanding to tailor your story, keeping your audience interested and avoiding tedious repetition of well-known or irrelevant facts.
  2. Be clear on your purpose. Before you write so much as a title slide pause and reflect on the message that you are trying to convey. Now consider how you would explain it succinctly – if your meeting was suddenly cut to 5 minutes what key points would you convey? This ‘elevator pitch’ is the crux of your message, add slides as needed to build and evidence your story but above all……..
  3. Keep it simple. Challenge yourself – do you really need that line?  That paragraph? That slide?! And are you showing the information in the most straightforward way? Would it be better broken down into a couple of less detailed slides – or should you lose the detail and present one simple (and I do mean simple!) summary slide. The best messages are short and to the point, they stick in our minds because they are easy to comprehend and easy to remember.  

I suspect the author of this particular slide tripped up at points 2 & 3. Instead of identifying the key themes and facts from their spaghetti bowl of interwoven points, and then breaking them down in to a couple of bite-sized chunks, they became ‘data blind’. The desire to convey as much information as possible resulted in a slide that I doubt anyone ever truly understood!

There are a whole host of formats and platforms that can be used to present information, and their relative merits are a discussion for another day, but these three points should guide the construction of every presentation, whatever the story and the whoever the audience.

By Becky Wilkes, Associate Director

This entry was posted in Market research, tagged Communication, Engagement and posted on August 3, 2015

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