Present the story, not the report

Turning a 60-page report into magic.

Sarah Kaur
Jun 4, 2018 · 5 min read

Presenting to a client is often the way we cap off a “Define” stage at Portable. “Define” being the work we do to bring definition to a problem to solve, to the humans who use it, and to the opportunities to solve it creatively. Skills employed are amalgamated from service design, ethnographic research, human-centred design. Assets produced are often journey maps, empathy maps, user personas, interview transcripts, and it’s usually all pulled together in a giant report to share with the client. I don’t think we’ve created one that’s been under 60 pages — prettycrayballz to read through.

As well as editing and honing the reports themselves, we’ll make a date with the client’s project team and their senior stakeholders to walk and talk them through what we’ve learnt. And here’s where the magic happens.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Reports: signed sealed, delivered, and sealed again.

Tell them the story, so they read the report. If you tell them the report, they’ll never read the report.

Don’t tease if you can’t please.

“We started with a kick off meeting, with a few of your staff, which was incredibly useful as we discovered a few key themes that were later validated, which we’ll be presenting next.”

“We then spoke to 25 people across the country, which gave us some really valuable insights that we’ll come to a little later.”

“We then took all we learnt and created an empathy map which allowed us to synthesise the information that up till then hadn’t been connected — and this was really great because it got us to the point where we are finally, after a lot of work, able to share with you what we’ve learnt.”

See what’s happened? The audience has just heard a bunch of stuff they can’t make sense of, because as soon as they heard about it the conversation has moved on to the next promise.

We’re not politicians. But we give politicians the anecdotes they talk about.

Play to the FOMO.

Let’s pretend your research like a mining operation. At the client presentation, start with the gemstones glinting in the mine. Don’t open with how you picked the chisels to dig the mine — who cares about the tools? Definitely don’t start with the diamond sparkling in the jeweller’s microscope — it’s so clear it’s just not that interesting. Get back to the mine where your headlight has just landed on a glint in the wall — yeah, what is that tiny shiny thing? Share that.

Paint the picture, let them live it with you. If you had an “Aha!” moment, then step your room through that moment in detail.

Guide your clients to think “aha!” two seconds before you say it.

Then move on to another key point you want to get across. If talking about the activities you ran through, show them photos of the work actually being done, even if it’s with Ken Burns effects it’s still going to contextualise the words you’re speaking and allow them to be there in the moment of discovery with you.

Show and tell. And scribble.

All assets we produce are distributed to the stakeholders before they come into the room. As we speak about the themes or key insights, we’ll physically point to the map, persona or other thing we’ve made to illustrate how and where, we discovered them. We also engage with the map so they know how to read it, where to later look themselves when they want to make the point to their boss.

For the report to do it’s best work, it best get messy.

Because when it gets messy, it gets to live on with the client. They get to make it their document, holding the thoughts you’ve spurred and the opportunities you’ve left them with. And when you hear your insights coming out of someone else’s mouth, it’s waaaay better than seeing them sealed in a desk drawer.


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