A Researcher’s Biggest Challenge… Presenting Findings, Anyone?

Beth Toland and I have been organizing some workshops the past few months via the design-user-research Google group. We polled the group for the latest session topic, and “Presenting Findings” came way to the top. By the end of the workshop that I hosted on Wednesday at our eBay offices in San Francisco, we could see that we have hit on a nerve. One participant described the workshop as a “support group for researchers,” ha!

I think it’s safe to say that the topic of ‘Presenting Findings’ is one that design researchers think about at least weekly. We are continually practicing, refining and looking for inspiration as we look to make impact and improve our products. That’s why I was so delighted with the conversations and connections made last night!

I’m sharing the process and a few highlights for those who couldn’t attend and in case we (or you) want to try this again. First, we broke into groups of three or four per table, sitting with someone new to increase diverse conversations. Each table introduced themselves to each other, and then settled in to quietly writing a few sentences on paper about specific findings they will be presenting or communicating soon. We also had delicious food and desserts. I always say that challenging conversations should be fueled by quality calories!

The questions that they answered were:

  • Who are you?
  • What is your project about?
  • Who is the audience for your findings? (tip: pick just one and get specific)
  • Why has your audience come to hear from you? What is in it for them?
  • What is your personal goal for this project?

Next, each person at the table took turns speaking to their group. The others at the table were given questions to prompt discussion around the presenter’s topic and approach. I’ve developed these to help myself prepare for presentations after many years of trials, small wins, and rookie mistakes. Many people afterwards asked for me to provide the list of prompts — here they are below. Hopefully they help you too.

As the host, I was able to float between conversations, and the range and scope of topics was amazing and inspiring. I loved the diverse ideas everyone shared.

At the end, we circled up to chat about what each table learned during their discussions. A few highlights:

  • Summarizing usability issues in presentation form is time consuming. Idea: Draw takeaways directly onto print-outs or screenshots of your wireframes via a tablet or by hand and scan or upload those notes into your presentation rather than re-creating them in your slides. It’s faster and less formal (but remember: scribble legibly!)
  • Preparing stakeholders ahead of meetings is an often forgotten, extra step, but one that pays off in the end. Idea: Try sending prompts, snack-sized info or in some cases the full presentation ahead of your meeting depending on the audience, their needs and your goals.
  • Filling in stakeholders on progress real-time when analysis and synthesis have not yet happened feels premature. Idea 1: treat it as an appetizer vs the meal. Give the team a flavor of what you’ve been hearing by quoting a specific individual vs. trying to summarizing themes from multiple interviews on the fly. Idea 2: Create an internal blog you can share with your team and upload photos from the field as you go. You can even add words to the photos to create a “meme.” This is something we do at eBay. It’s fun, and it forces you to boil down the main takeaway from a conversation into a few words or a sentence.
  • How can good work survive so future employees will see it? Idea 1: Set up an internal website that is searchable and taggable across all projects. Idea 2: Set up websites unique to the individual project, to make it easily accessible.
  • When teams are involved and respect the work, there is much greater impact. Option 1: Set goals for teams and individuals that require a certain amount of field time per quarter. Option 2: Discuss with engineering leads the best approach — if they trust that we’re doing our job and are willing to put in the time to collaborate, perhaps that is a better use of time.
  • What to do when people don’t read their email or come to meetings? Idea: Set up immersive spaces, plastering the walls, and even the ceilings and floors for stakeholders to interact with the content.
  • How to get insights noticed when we’ve all got information overload? Idea: Brand the content to make it more catchy and repeatable — for example, ‘5 ideas from 50 people’.

All in all, the time we spent was useful and fun. I’m thankful for the group and am looking forward to future meetings. The next one will be a panel format on a new topic — stay tuned!

P.S. Thank you to Annette Boyer, Alisa Weinstein, Pree Kolari, and Amar Khanna for helping to edit this post.