Present the Story, Not the Report

How to turn a 60-page report into magic. By Sarah Kaur.

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.

Reports: signed sealed, delivered, and sealed again.

We sweat tears over these reports. But being pragmatists we also accept that most reports end up in a desk drawer, becoming friendly with the dusty rubberband ball and the staples left behind in the last clean in 1999. So we craft a presentation that’s really a teaser, it’s the TED talk, it’s the billboard hit, it’s the pilot episode that hooks them so they can engage with the rest of the content. This way, the report has a chance of becoming useful for advocating for policy change, for the next human-centred design program or for making sure the user’s voices are represented alongside the budget.

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

So here’s what we’ve learnt about telling the story.

Don’t tease if you can’t please

Presentations often take the same form as a report. The speaker might open with an executive summary, then walk through the stages or research activities. Maybe they mention how many people they interviewed, drop a few names of competitors they analysed. It’s been ten minutes of the hour booked, and guess what. The people in the room still know nothing. It usually goes a little something like this…

“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.

Don’t tease if you can’t please with the actual insight, theme or learning immediately after talking to it.

Play to the FOMO

Your clients probably engaged you because they couldn’t do this work themselves, and might be nurturing slight post-FOMO feelings because you got to do the deep dive they’ve always dreamed of doing. So play it with everything you’ve got.

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.

If mentioning a user from whom you’ve extracted a pearl of wisdom, tell the room about that user. Where did you meet them? How did you speak to them? Do they have kids, a bank loan, a headache, a happy heart? How do they relate to the client or their product, and how does their interview contribute to the larger pool of knowledge? Is there a key quote to throw up?

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

You’ve all heard show not tell, right? We need to do both, because rarely does a complex journey map just spring off the page or the slide presentation all by itself to do a Michael Jackson number to make people scream with delight. I mean, we’d love it to, but it just never does.

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.

We might even scribble all over it, just so we get across the point that it’s not an “artefact” but a document to get people thinking, scrawling, and generally get messy with.

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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