In the eighth episode of Perspectives, we ask for tips and tricks for communicating insights that resonate with the C-Suite and drive real actions and results.
Annie Pettit – Market Research Methodologist, AnniePettit@gmail.com, read more on her blog.
Alrighty, tip number one: Sample Sizes. The reasons for choosing sample sizes are a foreign concept to many people, leaders included. Many people depend on you to provide helpful guidance when it comes understanding what an appropriate sample size is, the drawbacks of those sizes, and how results can be interpreted given those choices. One tip I’ve used is to give them specific examples of what might and might not be statistically significant when the results do come through. For instance, rather than sharing the margin of error around a specific sample size, instead, I’ll say something like: With this sample size, a result of 30% would be statistically different from 37% but statistically the same as 36%. Are you prepared to choose a winning concept that is preferred by 30% of people rather than by 36% of people?
Tip number two: actionability. As someone who loves raw data, cleaned data charted data, graphed data, and tabled data, sometimes it’s hard to take the next step and make the data usable and actionable. But business leaders don’t always care about individual data points. They may not even be concerned with summaries of the results. What they really want is your informed opinion about what the data actually mean and the appropriate options that should be considered as a result of the data. So, beyond reporting that 30% of people like a certain thing, use your understanding of the rest of the results to indicate why they like a certain thing, why they might not like it, the implications of moving forward (or not) with that thing, and how that choice might affect other products on the market already. Take the data as far forward as you possibly can in order to give them fodder to spark further ideas.
Bonus tip! Know your own weaknesses. I know that data visualization is not my strength. When I need data to be visualized well so that it is understandable by everyone, from junior to senior and expert to a newbie, my only option is to find an expert. And here’s an example of how an expert would illustrate missing data. I would have never thought to do it like but look at how effective it is. It’s worth the extra cost.
Nick Fisher – Co-founder, firstname.lastname@example.org, read more on his blog.
In my opinion, these are the three things that any researcher should keep in mind when debriefing senior stakeholders.
1. KEEP YOUR RESEARCH ACTIONABLE AND GROUNDED We’ve all seen them: insights that are considered deeply profound by their creators – paradigm-shifting, even – but which lack a firm grounding in the day-to-day objectives of a company. Blue-sky idealism certainly has a place in market research, but it needs to be remembered that high level stakeholders rarely have time for this luxury: these stakeholders are looking for clear insights that resolve pressing research queries. What they’re not looking for are scattershot insights that make granular points but lack business application. It is of particular importance when debriefing senior stakeholders (but also key, surely, to keep in mind when crafting all pieces of research) that outputs are not only well thought out but provide answers in a way that empowers stakeholders to take action in a positive way.
2. BE AN ADVISOR NOT A RESEARCHER A good presentation to the c-suite will not only be built on a careful analysis of the research area in question, but will be shaped by an understanding of each stakeholders’ personal objectives. These motives aren’t too hard to find and can be gathered in multiple ways: by reading through interviews with a stakeholder; op-eds that they’ve penned about their aspirations for the company’s growth; or, if you’re lucky enough, one-on-one time with them where you can talk about their needs. Each of these ways (or a combination of all three!) are keys to unlocking this understanding. The goal here is ascending from a researcher to the role of advisor: someone who not only understands a research query in depth, but how the findings uncovered in the process can best support the growth of each stakeholder’s own ambitions for the company.
3. REMEMBER: THEY’RE JUST NORMAL PEOPLE Ultimately, though, the best advice I can give when debriefing senior stakeholders is to remember that they are just normal people: the c-suite are individuals (albeit, very busy individuals) who just want to be informed and entertained. It’s thus vitally important that research is presented in a way that conveys findings in a clear, straight-forward manner while simultaneously keeping them engaged with insights through an appropriate presentation style (whether that be good design, powerful video, or other strong, visual elements).
Excerpts from the vlog
Always being able to articulate how it helps in the near term. I wish I would have known that earlier in my career talking to C-Suite. @dbrowel
Most researchers often think of the communication of insights as the end of the project and they don’t think about it as the start of the campaign and so you need a shift to think about it as a beginning of something and you need to be able to deliver something which is much more focused on delivering action. @keenasmustard
I find my inspiration with Ted. Not the 18 minute talks, not the 12 minute talks, but the principals around opening with a powerful statement, keeping it short supported by some great substantiation and then finishing, but bringing it all to life with a well rehearsed, well structured clear thought. @winifredatwell
I’ve been in presentations to C-Suite where you think you’ve got half an hour and after ten minutes the marketing director decides that he’s got something else to do and so basically, if you’re not keeping it short and giving them a really good summary upfront, the danger is they won’t take on the information or they won’t get to a point where they can make a decision. @clientadvocates
If you’re there you have credibility, so don’t waste their time trying to make yourself worthy. @HarrisonInsight
A key trick that we use when communicating insights with a C suite is to have teams pitch their ideas like startups do. We bring in real entrepreneurs who are experienced pitching to get actual funding to train the teams up. These pitches also include real evidence based research using transactional or behavioural findings, which directly informs the team’s pivot, perish, or persevere recommendation. @reneemmurphy
Remember less is more, keep it short and concise, structuring your story around the main recommendations that you want the directors to focus on, don’t structure it around the data or the questions that you want asked, keep it focused on the actions that you want taken as a result of the project. @pd_hudson
Any advice I’d give people presenting to senior stakeholders is to remember that they’re just people and that they want to be entertained and they want to have good research as much as the next person so as long as it’s an entertaining presentation as long as you coach it real information and strong research it will go well. Nick Fisher @hookresearch
I found that the key was to be succinct in making my main point, then you would evidence it and then maybe give some extra colour if needed. What didn’t really work was leading them on a narrative, which had a sort of dramatic reveal or plot twist at the end, it wasted time and irritated them. @andybuckers
Once people reach the c-suite, those functional and technical skills, you know, the skills that researchers spend most of their careers really honing, they matter less than leadership skills with a strong grasp of business fundamentals. @kristinluck
Don’t be afraid of delivering bad news. Often, the CEO would prefer to see what’s not working and what needs to be fixed rather than continuous reports of good news.- Mike Jeanes
You wanna know your audience, you also want to know stuff, so practice, practice and practice some more. You don’t wanna take an encyclopedia, no one wants to dig through pages of paperworks to understand what’s going on. Think ‘spark notes’, be high level, top line, but be prepared to dig deeper. @baileighallen
Tell a story and entertain. Textualise the data into some sort of real life situation, that hopefully members of the board will be able to relate to, then they will be able to understand and absorb the message that you’re giving far quicker.@Finn01
There are three things I have in the back of my mind. I need to tell them what they really need to know, I need to convince them why they should believe me, and I should show them why they should care. When it comes to keeping it real and taking the abstract and conceptual nature of numbers and making them more human, relate them to the people that their decisions actually affect, and the things that happen to real human beings as a consequence of their work. @InsightNarrator
One of the best ways to get your point over to a C suite audience I’ve always found is through repetition throughout the presentation. Obviously don’t make it too obvious. Not like Donald Trump. But if you span it out and repeat your main points maybe about three times that really does get the point over. Johnny Caldwell