The Pre-Flight Checklist for Research Presentations
Don’t underestimate the importance of the market research readout. It’s not just a PowerPoint. It’s the relevance of your study. If you lose stakeholder attention, you waste the findings you worked so hard to uncover.
With so much riding on the readout, it’s important to do a safety check before you present your study.
This article is based off a B2B Revealed episode.
You can listen to the episode or read the article below.
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The preflight checklist is perhaps the best-known safety check. Ironically, the crash of an iconic aircraft led to its creation. The impressive B-17 Bomber, nicknamed “The Flying Fortress,” was a favorite to win a 1935 US Army Air Corps flight competition. Unfortunately, an error led the plane to crash, killing the pilot and another crew member. The aircraft was so much more complex than previous models, the pilot overlooked a crucial pre-flight step. The elevator lock was left on, causing the plane to stall and crash shortly after takeoff. Rather than avoiding complex aircraft or requiring pilots to have even more training, the idea of a step-by-step preflight checklist was formed.
Whether you fly a plane or not, a safety check is a great idea for any important task. Think of the applications for medicine, rescue operations, construction, and… corporate research.
Follow this simple checklist to avoid crashing and burning during your next market research readout. These PowerPoint tips will be a lifesaver. (They are also useful if you are presenting your findings in a paper.)
Set a timer for 120 seconds. Look through your slide deck. When the two minutes are up, ask these questions:
- Does this deck tell a story? If so, what is it?
- Were you tempted to keep reading after two minutes?
Your audience is bigger than the people who show up to the readout. Stakeholders who are already engaged are likely to be there, but the C-suite may be counting on perusing the findings deck later when they have a spare moment. For their sake, your findings deck should literally be able to speak for itself.
The two-minute check also helps to put you in the mind frame of someone opening your presentation as an email attachment. Without you there to explain the presentation, does your slide deck sufficiently convey the story?
Look through your titles in a slide view or similar. Read them together, in order. Slide titles should tell a story all by themselves.
Disconnected slide titles lead to a choppy narrative. No slide should be an isolated island unto itself.
Too often, researchers build findings decks without enough attention paid to the narrative. Researchers love their data. Slides quickly fill with quotes, data analysis, and bullet points. Generic slide titles are hastily slapped on. Regrettably, titles are seldom revisited.
When this happens, the deck loses a narrative arch. If someone were to skim the deck reading only the slide titles, they would get a boring list of information, not a story.
Reading your slide titles alone should serve as a succinct summary of key findings and decisions impacted.
Lose Extra Baggage
Planes don’t fly so well when they’re overburdened with unnecessary weight. Same goes for your slide deck. (And writing in general.)
Look through your deck again. See if you can identify slides that are crammed with text or data. Some red flags:
- Tiny text in intimidating chunks.
- Endless bullet points.
- No white space on the slide.
These common errors make for slides that are hard to present. And to read.
If you spot any of these warning signs in your deck, edit. Take those challenging slides and break them up. Slides are free, you can afford to give each point its own slide.
Be As Subtle As A Skywriter
Look at each slide in turn and ask yourself, “What’s the one key takeaway? Is it obvious or does it require an oral explanation?”
Make sure the point you’re trying to make is as impossible to not notice as a piano falling on your head. That means that your main point is the most eye-catching part of the slide. It’s the biggest and most stylish thing on the slide. It’s also crystal clear and concisely worded.
This check is best performed with the help of a co-pilot. You’ll want someone who knows the research space at a high level but hasn’t been directly involved in the project. Ask them to tell you what they think the main point of each slide is. If their answer is wildly different than the point you were trying to make, time to edit. Yes, that’s some extra effort. However, you just gotta do it if you want your study to have a strong impact.
Frankly, stakeholders won’t work all that hard to understand the importance and implications of your study. They’ve commissioned research that will inform them, not confuse them.
This Way To The Exit
At the end of a presentation, you want robust dialogue. You can get there by developing an exit slide.
The main purpose of the exit slide is actually not to summarize recommendations. Rather, it should be a mix of questions for your audience and statements you feel comfortable making based on your research. That way, you’ve given them a springboard into the conversations they’re going to have after you leave the room.
I’ve come to realize that when business leaders ask for the executive summary of a study, they’re really asking for three things:
- A brief explanation of the data that was collected.
- The key takeaways from the study condensed into a concise narrative.
- A path for using the findings to make strategic decisions. (This is what the exit slide is for.)
When executives get done listening to the presentation, what do you want them to be thinking? Are there key points they need to keep in mind, or questions they need to start asking colleagues? Should they be ordering some direct reports?
Give them a jump start into that process and your research is guaranteed to drive more impact.
This podcast is brought to you by Cascade Insights. We specialize in market research and competitive intelligence for B2B technology companies. Our focus allows us to deliver detailed insights that generalist firms simply can’t match. Got a B2B tech sector question? We can help. Cascade Insights is based in Portland, Oregon.
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