How to effectively present research findings so people give a damn

How we structure a presentation might seem like small potatoes. And it might not seem appropriate content for a website on enterprise UX design. With 10 years experience in the industry, I can say with confidence that making successful user experiences in large organizations is only superficially about user experience. At a much deeper level, it is about politics, building trust, winning buy-in and logistical challenges like making room for UX research and design in project roadmaps. We need to focus on excellent UIs and experiences, but those never see the light of day if our team doesn’t trust us, and if our company isn’t invested in a better user experience as an outcome.

The truth is that mass communication (like presentations) helps bring teams into alignment. If you’ve never worked at a large company, let me tell you: miscommunication and poor team alignment is one of the largest problems facing large organizations.

Why presentations fail
In my role as a product manager and lead UX designer on various projects, I’ve noticed that often presentations are total snooze-fests. It’s not because the content isn’t important, or won’t have dramatic, long-lasting consequences. And it’s not because the presenters lack charisma. Presentations fail because your audience doesn’t see a connection between your Power Point and the work they need to get done. So how do you speak to your audience?

Win by understanding your audience
How do we understand our audience? Let’s look at their hectic work life. They get to work and check multiple emails, 10-20 Slack channels. During the day people interrupt their work flow, their phone buzzes, they get lunch and chat with co-workers. At the end of the day their brain feels like Swiss cheese. These are the people sitting in our conference rooms listening to us drone.

So how do we reach into those vacant minds? It’s actually pretty simple. Help your audience understand that you are talking about them:

  • How does this affect their work?
  • What are you telling them they should do?
  • (3rd, always 3rd) – Why do you believe they should go in this direction?

You need to wrench their lizard brains into focus by helping them understand exactly how the outcome of this presentation will affect their daily work. You won’t need to tell them to pay attention, you’ll have them.

How to structure research presentations
We need to front-load presentations with our opinionated stance about what the research is telling us, and why we should care. Researchers are used to academia, where conclusions are given at the end of the paper, mirroring the process by which the research was produced. And this makes sense. Teachers have to read student papers. Students have to read instructors papers, even if they skip through them. In the business world, we’re dealing with a different audience. We need to adjust as necessary.


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