The research technology landscape is vast and varied. Then there are the fields adjacent to insight that add value to the work of researchers; data visualisation, creative production, knowledge management and more. In fact, there can often seem like there are an endless number of ways to present data. So why, then, does the PowerPoint presentation still reign supreme?
The death knells and predictions that the humble PPT will bite the bullet date back to 2010 at least. And yet, it is still not only alive and kicking — but one of the dominant forms of debriefing decision makers in the insights industry. It’s not like there aren’t valid alternatives; there are certainly better methods of engaging an audience, and formats better suited to the various forms of data researchers work with. But PowerPoint persists. So perhaps before dismissing it outright, it’s worth taking the time to understand what makes it such an appealing option.
PowerPoint is a form of presentation application. The same basic principles also apply to KeyNote, Slides, Prezi, Visme and Canva — among others. Here are a few of the factors that make such software an attractive option:
- The learning curve. Regardless of which presentation software you choose, each presents complex and granular options beneath a simple interface that makes starting quick and learning easy.
- The layout. Not only is the concept of a slide universally understandable, it also lends itself to sequential focus. This means both presenter and audience only need to consider one point at a time, and the sequence points are presented in are what builds the complete story.
- Multimedia support. Presentation software surfaces text, images, graphs and videos all in the same way. In multi-method research projects where more than one of these formats may be used, PowerPoint offers a simple solution for presenting these in one fluid space.
- Freedom of delivery. An important benefit of presentation software is that the delivery is method agnostic. That is to say whether you deliver it to an audience or email to a single stakeholder who reads it on their own, there is no difference in the end. That gives such reports much more flexibility than other formats.
It’s clear that there are benefits to PowerPoint and it serves an important purpose. But, still, as many will attest to — it is not the most engaging method of presenting data. Many audiences are numb to slide, detached and only passively involved. If engagement is our goal, we need to look to other technologies, whilst still recognising the vital role that presentation software plays.
Technologies That Engage Stakeholders
Below are a number of options that are available on the market today. Each of these comes with its own advantages and drawbacks. As the name of this article implies, effectively engaging stakeholders involves choosing the technology that fits best with the data you have to present.
The most cited alternative to PowerPoint, dashboards provide a simple interface through which stakeholders can monitor changes over time. It is this element that is most important to dashboard creation. Because creating an impactful overview isn’t just about distilling data down onto a single page; the most engaging dashboards track metrics over time.
It is in this frequent and repeated use where the real power lies. As stakeholders and users become more familiar with the layout and expected output of the dashboard, anomalies and outliers are easier to spot, engage with and investigate further.
When to use dashboards: A dashboard will serve you best when you are monitoring data over time and longitudinal change is important. Examples include NPS and customer satisfaction tracking.
Raw Interactive Formats
A raw, interactive format has two key distinctions that set it apart from a dashboard. First, rather than tracking metrics over time, this format presents a snapshot in time — usually at the end of a research project. Second, although it may initially appear similar in presentation, the singular summary page that is vital to a good dashboard is of lesser importance here.
Instead, raw interactive formats should present a summary that encourages audiences to click into the individual data points and explore on their own. This might be in the form of reading additional verbatims, viewing a scrapbook of images or digging into how different consumer groups responded to survey questions. The summary page should entice audiences to want to understand more and then make it easy to do so.
When to use interactive formats: These formats serve their purpose best when a research project has concluded, but the data is nuanced and there is not a single clear story to tell. Examples include brand and new product development research.
Software such as Trello and Basecamp have bought widespread familiarity with project management software to many teams. But these tools can also provide a great space through which to present research findings.
Interactive environments like these provide the perfect grounds to build on, especially when research data provides clear and actionable recommendations. Translating written reports into boards, webs or other lynchpins of collaborative tools in turn provides stakeholders a coda through which to interact. Interactivity might take the form of questions, reminders, sticky notes, assigning tasks, or even just conversations. Importantly, the more interaction that takes place, the more stakeholders engage with the findings.
When to use collaborative tools: This form of research reporting is best when there are clear recommendations from a project that can be translated into action. Examples include advert testing and customer experience research.
Finally, knowledge management systems have existed for some time — though have only just entered the fore of the insights industry. These are custom built repositories that act as a central database of all the data a company has access to.
Knowledge management systems encourage the use of existing data and ensure assets that have already been created are seen before new research is commissioned. However, gaining stakeholder buy-in cannot be done on a project by project basis; it requires an organisational and cultural push. Though, once it has been set up, tools such as email digests, home page customisation and keyword alerts can provide a hugely engaging data ecosystem that really encourages data driven decision making.
When to use knowledge management systems: A knowledge management system cannot be created off the back of a single project alone. Reports and data should can only be placed here once a conscious organisational decision has been taken.
While I’m sure there are many more technological solutions to stakeholder engagement, these are a few of my favourites. And of course, not every answer needs to be technology focused. There’s still a huge value to be found in the analogue techniques of storytelling, advertising, visual narratives, video and more.
If there’s one important message to takeaway from these last 1,000+ words, it would be this: there are more engaging methods of presenting data than PowerPoint, but choose when and where to apply these with care.
This article was originally published on the FlexMR Insight Blog and can be accessed here.