Market research tips: topline reports

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I recently had the opportunity to work on and present a topline report. After all my writing and reading about storytelling in the market research field, I found myself really having to reconcile finding and telling a story for a tracker, instead of just presenting data. To add to that, I was doing my best to align with a sister tracker, meaning both of us were trying to find common ground and to explain when we didn’t share common ground.

Here are some tips that I kept in mind for the report.

One story every five minutes

In my days teaching those in technical roles how to become public speakers, I loved this one tip: don’t try to tell more than one story every five minutes. This can be really difficult to do when you’re looking at the data from a nearly 30-minute study (but it can also give a lot of insight into where the study can likely be trimmed!), and you want to include all the shiny new questions that were added. However, it also served as a wonderful guiding force to the development of the report. If it was just kind of “meh” on the interest scale, then it was cut. The report went from including lots of slides with lots of charts to a few slides with relevant data points that were actually formulating a story from the numbers.

Tell them what you’re going to tell them

Including a summary at the beginning of what you’re going to speak about is like giving your audience a map of where you’ll be taking them on a road trip. Or maybe it’s more like giving them the teaser to a podcast. Either way, this is especially helpful if you find you’re going to be short on time to present. I created a view of the key takeaways, using the rest of the time to give the color and data behind the take-aways. The funny thing is that when I delivered a draft view of the presentation, I don’t think my audience was expecting the summary and got stuck for about 15 minutes reviewing the summary slide, not realizing I was going to go in depth into each of the points made on that slide as I went through the presentation. I made sure during the final presentation to inform my audience this was a summary of what I’d be diving into, as opposed to one more data slide they needed to fully digest.

Practice the talk track

The very first time I went through the slides with my manager was tough. I hadn’t really gone through the slides myself, having worked with a partner team to develop the slides and receiving the presentation the night before. I found myself staring at slides, trying to remember what the point was to the slide so I could explain it to my manager.

Note: I do not recommend this approach.

While I don’t recommend looking like you have no idea what your data says when presenting to your manager, I knew this was meant to be a dry run – a very, very dry run – and it showed me a couple of things. First, if I couldn’t make sense of the slide in a few seconds, it was probably not a good idea to include it in the presentation. Second, I found where far too much was being said in one slide, and was able to go back and revisit what I actually wanted or needed to say, and how the visuals would help me say it, rather than starting with what the visuals should have and how I’d explain it.

Once I honed the story lines, I was then able to practice delivering the presentation. I did this with the partner team in the room so they could correct me when I was missing the boat on an explanation, which happened on repeatedly one slide. It took me five or six times reviewing the slide to get the talking point down, but having the partners in the room was crucial to me not only having a sounding board, but also knowing what words to use to be most effective in getting my point across.

Your audience probably isn’t a bunch of market researchers

Something I learned when I was presenting the first draft of the presentation to a set of stakeholders was that because I had seen my data for so long, I was using terminology that only made sense to me and to my partners. I found that I needed to be a lot clearer in my message, stop using market research vernacular, and simplify the story so that someone listening who hadn’t seen this data before could make sense of it without me needing to spend a lot of time explaining.

Adding to this: my presentation ultimately had to stand on its own. This meant the talking points I’d written on the slide and the visuals themselves had to be clear enough that anyone could pick up the presentation and get the story lines I was attempting to show without having me be there to deliver my full talk track, or without me needing to record my talk track to deliver with the slides.

The appendix should not simply be a burial ground for unused slides

As I was refining the presentation, I kept throwing stuff in the appendix with the statement, “Someone might find this interesting, but it doesn’t really help the story.” The day the presentation was being released to the rest of the company, I realized I’d been treating the appendix of the presentation like a scrap pile. It was my virtual “round file” where anything that didn’t fit was torn out and tossed aside. I put myself in the shoes of someone who wasn’t familiar with the data or the program looking at the slides and realized I needed to remove all the clutter from the appendix and leave only the relevant items in the appendix. I kept a version with all of the slides, then re-published the public version as the cleaned-up version. Now, people wouldn’t be surprised or confused by a bunch of random slides.

Trackers have stories, too

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: while large companies are still learning how to pivot on information quickly, I think trackers are going to be sticking around. That doesn’t mean they have to result in bland, boring presentations. In fact, I rather enjoyed the challenge of finding what was happening in the tracker this time around that needed to be brought to my stakeholders’ attention. Yes, sometimes a tracker topline is something like a “state of things” report, but it doesn’t mean there’s nothing that could be gained from an investigation in the data. Collaborating with my sister study was incredibly helpful, as was checking in with other studies that were happening at the same time, so we could compare notes on what we were seeing as general trends in the field. Stories emerged and instead of just a bunch of data points, we were able to put together an actual set of key points and actionable takeaways.

Ultimately, that’s what every market research presentation should do, from a topline about a tracker to a presentation about a study that used newer research methodology. We all should strive to tell a story that leaves our audience with recommended actions to be taken.

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