JEFF SELTZER is the Managing Partner at Hypothesis. Contact Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Strong presentation skills are critical for any well rounded research consultant. For most people, public speaking is not a comfortable thing. As Jerry Seinfeld put it:
“According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
Maybe there are a few people out there born with the amazing ability to present, but most of us have to learn this skill. It’s easy enough to Google “good presentation skills” and find lots of tips like: use proper body language; speak with conviction and clarity; don’t rely on notes…and my personal favorites: use humor and have visual aids. All good stuff. However, when it comes to presenting research findings, I like to talk about some important skills beyond basic elocution. Recently, I gave a workshop on the subject. If you are interested in the full presentation, send me a message. In the meantime, here are thoughts/tips when it comes to high profile findings presentations:
1. Understand Context.
Remember, the research is likely just one data stream and was not done in a vacuum. Before the presentation even starts, be sure to ask the client about the context of the meeting. No need to get sucked into all the politics, but it’s important to get a sense of the overall vibe you can expect. Ask questions like, “Who’s coming to the meeting?” or “how do you think the findings will be perceived?” or “ultimately, what are you hoping to accomplish with this meeting?” Understanding the overall context will help with tone and content.
2. It’s not about you.
There’s no doubt about it: being asked to present to senior executives is an honor as it demonstrates trust. But, never forget, it’s not about you. In fact, chances are you are the least important person in the room. Stakeholders should walk away with a strong sense of the research, not a strong sense of you. Ultimately, you are there to represent the one constituent that’s not in the room–the consumer. But, you are also a reflection of your client, and part of your job there is to make the client look great: for example, say “we” and not “I.” If someone says “great job” always acknowledge the client’s strong role in the process; and most importantly, don’t take credit for something that was done in partnership.
3. Leave the tap dancing shoes at home. (“I’m not sure…let me get back to you.”)
It’s uncomfortable for everyone to watch a speaker trying to answer a question (or respond to a comment) for which the answer is not clearly known. My advice: if you don’t know the answer, don’t try. You don’t get points just for trying. Just stop. It’s okay. Remember, it’s not about you. Just calmly and confidently say, “Good question. I’m not exactly sure…can I get back to you on that?” Perfect. And, believe it or not, admitting you don’t know actually gives you more credibility than a half-answer. Live to fight another day!
So, hopefully keeping in mind the above well help you ace your next in-person findings presentation. Do you have any recent experiences in which the above helped, or would have helped? I’d love to know. Also, please share any of your own! Look forward to your comments.