HR professionals are particularly likely, at some point, to undertake internal research projects, and to present the results to powerful people within their organisation, as well as to staff. Such research projects are critical because they have the potential to impact the wellbeing of employees or reform practice within a business, such as with the recent legislation regarding mandatory internal research into a company’s gender pay-gap. You may also simply have a business issue to solve.
Just presenting research data won’t be enough. Many HR professionals find it challenging to present research in a way which is informative, engaging and convincing. Your Board of Directors, CEO or Senior Leadership Team will expect you to deliver a clear narrative and possibly a range of solutions. And be prepared for the fact that they may want to get involved.
Read on for a short masterclass to help you effectively and confidently present research results to key stakeholders across your business.
Remember Your Audience
Think ‘left brain vs right brain‘: Some people work better with numbers (quantitative data), while others will prefer words and stories (qualitative data). For example, the CEO is likely to prefer the numbers, particularly statistical comparisons between your own findings and other research projects in the field. The HR Director, however, might prefer words and stories, a case study about a group of individuals within that statistic.
Generally speaking, people remember stories that elicit an emotional response better than a numerical figure. Try and mix it up, or find out in advance which your audience is likely to prefer. Using stories, personas or scenarios (eg; “A day in the life of….”) can bring the presentation to life and make it far more memorable.
Structure Your Presentation Accordingly
Every presentation should adhere to a logical structure. Executives tend to be busy people who may need to rush off to a meeting, or could get distracted by phone email notifications on their phones, so you need to keep them engaged with a clear flow. A standard template would be to:
- Begin with the research question, hypothesis or issue
- Present your findings
- Cite possible solutions.
This is a standard structure which you can apply to most research projects, but we’ve outlined some additional methods below.
Ways to Structure Your Research Presentation
The ‘He died in the first line‘ approach is often a good strategy to grab the audience’s attention, i.e. put the most important message at the start of the presentation. You can then work backwards. For example, you could start with “I am here today to show how you can improve your bottom line by 15% inside 12 months by investing in an employee engagement programme….”
A more traditional approach to structuring an internal presentation is ‘Tell them where they are going, take them there and then tell them where they’ve been‘. If you’re at a real loss, this is usually a good place to begin. Start with aims, objectives and agenda. Go through the agenda or main body and then summarise the key points again at the end.
Another good approach is ‘What; Why; Who; When; How?’ – in whatever order makes the best sense. A big advantage here is that you are forced down to using only five slides: the perfect internal presentation!
If your presentation lacks structure and logic, it’s possible the audience might cut you off before you’re finished, start playing with their phones, or even just leave without warning.
Don’t Overdo it
For an internal presentation, unless you have specific instructions to the contrary, aim for a delivery of between 15–20 minutes, maximum. Whatever your time allowance, you should leave at least half for questions and discussion. Check with your audience at the start with a question like: “I understand we have twenty minutes of your time today?”
If you can reasonably expect to present without interruptions (which is by no means a given with executives), work on a rule of thumb of two minutes per slide. This means an absolute maximum of ten slides. Ideally, aim for five.
Avoid using busy slides with lots of complicated words and graphics. Remember the maxim: “If I’d had longer, I’d have written a shorter letter”. It takes time to prepare an efficient, concise presentation.
Be Transparent and Credible
You’re likely to be presenting to movers and shakers, so it’s critical that you can back-up your findings with facts and figures. Listing constraints, requirements and assumptions is the most efficient way to achieve this. Ensure you have a few case studies or some relevant industry research you can easily refer to.
You should also be prepared to be challenged! Anticipate likely questions and have a set of slides that you can refer to at the end of the presentation – ONLY if required. But be careful with your timings. It’s easy to be dragged down rabbit holes.
Manage Questions with Confidence
Questions can be your best friend or your worst enemy depending upon how confidently you manage them. Many presenters dread potentially challenging questions, particularly from employers and peers.
Instead of throwing question time under the bus, consider it an opportunity to facilitate audience engagement, and to further demonstrate expertise in your area of research.
How To Answer Difficult Questions?
If asked a difficult question by an audience member breathe and follow these steps to pull yourself through the situation without choking:
- Pause before you say ANYTHING. This will give you time to think about your reply and show you are considering the question carefully.
- Clarify the nature of the question to give yourself more time to think of an appropriate answer.
- Maintain eye contact and confidently deliver the best answer you can come up with. Agree with the asker if necessary before delivering your answer to validate the asking and settle any disagreement with your data or proposed solution.
Most importantly remember that you conducted the research. You have the answers, and the advantage.
This is so important for keeping your audience engaged. Charts, tables and graphics are obvious examples of what can be included but you may want to consider incorporating a number of other devices:
You could use storyboards (like a cartoon or comic strip). There are thousands of viral internet memes that use this technique, precisely because it is so easy. All you need to do is change the text. If you have access to a graphic designer or illustrator, you can take this a step further and incorporate bespoke sketches. Photographs are also a good option.
2. Be Inventive with Words
If you need to use words, think how best to present them visually. Don’t be dull. Avoid using bullet points lists (for example, by displaying a post-it note graphic with the words on).
You could even not use any PowerPoint at all! Just walk in and write everything on a flip chart or white board. If you can do this confidently, clearly and concisely it will demonstrate a true mastery of the craft.
Present your Findings with Confidence!
Presenting the results of an internal research projects is your chance as a HR professional to prove the value you can bring to your organisation. Keep your presentation on track with a logical structure, be credible, use the appropriate visual aids and you will be well-prepared to communicate and support your findings.
If you would like to learn more about research presentations or other essential presenting skills get in touch with our team at secondnature today.
Written By Belinda Huckle
Co-Founder & Managing DirectorRead Bio
Belinda is the founder and managing director of secondnature. With a determination to drive a paradigm shift in the delivery of presentation skills training, she is a strong advocate of a more personal and sustainable presentation skills training methodology.
She believes in a training approach that harnesses people’s unique personality to build their own authentic presentation style and personal brand.
Belinda is currently helping to transform the presentation skills of people in organisations such as BBC Worldwide, DHL, ESRI, Heineken, MARS Inc., Moody’s, Pfizer, Roche, Triumph and Walmart – to name just a few.