The author, Jerel Ross (center), alongside fellow AUC alumni and Nielsen colleagues Rakhety Livingston (left) and Blake Roberts (right).
I've spent the past five years working for Nielsen, the world's largest marketing research firm that helps media and consumer products companies understand what people watch and buy. I am currently a manager in our consumer analytics group, specializing in survey and segmentation analysis for large brands and retailers. My team’s projects uncover the who, what, where and why behind buying behavior, which enables clients to create products and advertisements that truly resonate with customers. A lot of data is involved in these studies, so I've had to learn how to balance simplifying findings with providing enough supporting information to make recommendations clear and believable. It can be challenging to make all this information come together in presentation form. Here are five key techniques I’ve learned along the way.
What’s your starting point? Before you can advise about expanding a product line or increasing a product’s visibility, you need to know where things stand today. Begin with a Google search to learn the basics of a category. What brands does your client and competitors offer? Is your client a premium or value player in this space or do they offer price points for all consumers? If this is a food related category, is Organic a thing yet? Doing your research seems like common sense, but you’d be surprised by how many people skip over this basic step--and then pay the price later on. Presenting to your fellow colleagues? The same rules apply.
The first question you have to ask yourself when putting together a presentation is: ‘What am I trying to achieve?’ When conducting studies, I have to sift through a lot of information. It can get overwhelming, so I make a point to focus on what’s going to answer my client’s distinct questions, and I save the rest for another day. Once you know the specific areas you’re going to explore, identify which metrics are available to you, and go from there. When we run our analyses, we look for information that tells a story that supports our client’s goals. And, if we uncover any significant data that could contradict their goals, we make sure we share that information – and any potential solutions – with them as well.
You can have the best data in the world – information no one else has — but if you don’t know what to do with it, it’s worthless. So, after identifying key data points, I decide how I’m going to share my information. Does it belong in a bar chart? A data table? Should I tell the story through imagery with captions? To avoid overwhelming anyone, I make sure to only show what is absolutely necessary and point to important findings. For example, if my research finds that price is the primary purchase driver for a product, I put this into context by showing how it ranks compared to other purchase drivers. But I make sure to highlight price in a different color, since that’s the key point.
I get a rush every time a client has an a-ha moment and exclaims, “Wow, I didn’t know that!” But even that marker of success doesn’t mean my work is done. It’s important to continue to read the room for hints on how you’re doing. I primarily look at facial expressions and body language. If I’m getting a lot of confused looks, or too many people seem distracted, something has clearly gone off track. If my audience appears lost, I’ll try repeating a point in simpler terms, or I’ll elaborate with more examples. Sometimes merely changing the inflection of my voice gets people to re-direct their gaze to me. If I spot someone squinting hard at the screen, it usually means he or she is trying to figure out a slide rather than listening to me explain it, so I ask if there are any questions. If I see a person with his or her arms folded, it tips me off that he or she doesn’t quite believe what I’m saying. I acknowledge that and reassert the proof.
It may feel silly, but doing a test run in front of someone with industry knowledge and someone without it will help you anticipate questions and force you to explain difficult concepts very simply. This is a great way to avoid being caught off guard. While you practice, look out for phrases like “I think ...” or “I just wanted to…” that can make you sound less certain and diminish your authority. Use the rehearsal as an opportunity to memorize your slides. It makes you more likely to sound upbeat and engaging – two qualities you will want your audience to associate with you.
Whether you’re in a client-facing role or making a case for something within your organization internally, these recommendations are bound to help you become a more effective communicator.
Nielsen is a Jopwell partner company.
Images courtesy of Jerel Ross