Better Preparation, Better Presentation

May 26, 2017


Recently, I attended a Writing and Presenting Market Research Reports seminar. While the seminar itself was focused on creating market research presentations that combine insights, storytelling, and data visualization, there were three takeaways that will benefit anyone who creates or gives presentations.


Imagine you’re writing a letter to your mom about your first semester of college. I’m sure it would include things like how you showed up for ALL classes on time, ate three square meals each day, and volunteered the first Saturday each month reading books to puppies at the local animal shelter. Now imagine writing a letter to your best friend about your first semester in college. It’s likely that the letter to your mom and best friend would look a little different.

Before starting a presentation, it’s important to KNOW the audience with whom you are communicating. Identifying your audience at the beginning of a project will help you make good decisions about what type of content to include, how to organize your thoughts, and how to support your recommendations. The story message and format is likely to change based on the audience. For example, a researcher or data scientist will want to know the details of your study (background, purpose, business objectives), the methodology used, and detailed findings that lead up to your final recommendation. A C-level executive may only care about the final recommendations and a high-level summary of the results, leaving the bulk of the detail (your months of work that led you to that awesome insight), tucked neatly in the appendix.

Secondly, KNOW what your audience is currently thinking and doing. How can you influence them to change their minds or actions if you don’t know what they’re currently thinking or doing? Before starting a project, I like to meet with the client to ask if they can share all analysis completed for that particular project topic. What insights have they already uncovered? What did they try and fail? We don’t want to spend time reinventing the wheel.


Usually when it’s time to start preparing a final presentation, I jump right into creating placeholder PowerPoint slides. A complementary alternative that I’ve found to be extremely helpful is storyboarding. Storyboarding uses a series of panels to layout the potential flow for the presentation. It’s a great way to visualize the story you plan on creating.

I recommend using the super amazing technology of pen and sticky notes. This method helps you see your presentation as a whole—beginning, middle, and end—in a physical space. You can easily re-organize the content, add new ideas, and toss out bad ones.

Sharing your hand-drawn slides helps you to align with your team and with your client to make sure what’s planned is in line with the business need. Storyboards can help identify potential gaps in your research study or analysis. It’s also a great tool for brainstorming.

Storyboarding is not just a technique for designing presentations. It’s also helpful for writing a blog post!


Getting to know your audience and storyboarding is something you can work through on your own, but you will be more successful if you involve a wider audience (data scientist, project managers, and marketers). There is an “I” in team, after all. At Elicit we use a “war room” approach, where we gather all those involved in a project in one room to flesh out the details. Snacks included.

Some questions we discuss together are:

  • What is the background or history that led to identified need for the project?
  • What decisions will be made?
  • Who is our audience and what are they trying to find out? Why?
  • What do we already know?
  • What data do we have available to answer the business question?
  • What other information can we get that may be relevant (other studies, secondary data, social media)?

If the project is at the request of someone else, you may not have the entire business context. When everyone is together, it’s easier to make sure we all understand the situation and align on the main business issue. From here we can develop a solid plan of attack.

Wouldn’t it be horrible to launch a survey to find out at the end you didn’t ask the right questions? Can you imagine spending hours creating an awesome presentation for your client, only to discover you two were on totally different pages and you have to start all over? Pausing to make sure you know whom you are communicating with and what you want to communicate may seem like it will make the process longer. This method saves you time by reducing iterations and more importantly helps you craft the right message to the right people.

Now that you’re equipped with these three tips on how to improve your preso prep, you’re one step closer to creating a killer, cohesive presentation. Good luck on your journey!