The first time I was asked to create a research report, I was lost.
I stood in front of the CEO, CTO, and head of product—shuffling through a pretty boring, and visually unappealing, deck. (To my humiliation, I’d used a preset gradient background.)
Each slide was filled with information I gathered from research sessions. And while it was good information, it was a lot. It wasn’t distilled down into anything digestible by upper management.
That was when I learned my first lesson in presenting research:
Cater your research reports to your audience. Not everyone finds research as exciting as you do. Leave them with just enough to understand, and then guide them towards resources that enable them to learn more, on their own time.
It doesn’t matter how good the findings are if you aren’t able to communicate them effectively with your team.
I was fortunate the leadership team was kind enough to sit through my bumbling and bursting presentation. But they definitely (and, again, fortunately) gave me feedback that forever changed the way I presented research.
It doesn’t matter how good the findings are if you aren’t able to communicate them effectively with your team. Now, whenever I create a research presentation, I use the following formula:
Informative + actionable + fun = solid user research presentation
What does this actually mean?
Make it informative
✔ Know your audience and speak to their interests
When I first presented my research to high-level stakeholders, I wasn’t reading the room. In fact, I ignored the room and babbled through the only thing I knew: the content on those slides.
Now, whenever I am relaying research insights, I know exactly who I am talking to, and what their high-priority interests are. For upper management, I discuss how my research findings could impact revenue, conversion rate, NPS, and customer retention.
For marketing, I talk about potential content, language and branding. For product, I give exact examples with reasonable action items.
One of my biggest wins was with a CTO who, at first, was not at all interested in qualitative research. Then I showed him an A/B test based off of our findings. With a design change recommendation our research had unearthed, our conversion rate skyrocketed 17%. That made him pay attention.
When you speak directly to a person’s interests, you’re able to capture and keep attention.
✔ Keep it short, but make in-depth information accessible
You don’t want to fight for attention during a presentation. I always try to present all the research findings within 20-30 minutes, and save any extra time for questions from the audience.
I stick to sharing the most high-level information, and then enable anyone who is interested to look deeper into the research. This ensures you are delivering the most important and impactful insights when the audience is at maximum capacity to receive them.
All your most valuable pieces of information have an opportunity to be absorbed, and people can explore further if they're curious.
✔ Have a high-level overview slide
I was once told by an executive stakeholder that his favorite presentations included a high-level overview—almost equivalent to a TL;DR. If he was able to see and understand the content in a glance, he would find it valuable to sit through an entire presentation of it.
Since then, I have noticed a trend: executives love high-level
overviews, especially after you send them the presentation. It’s just
enough information for them to understand the most important content and
takeaways from the deck as a whole.
In my TL;DR slide, I
always put the top insights (with links to video clips) alongside the
next step/recommendation. I also include any very critical bugs or
issues that need to be attended to immediately.
There is nothing, I repeat: nothing, more important than showing rather than telling.
✔ Let your visuals lead
I don’t have much text on any of my slides (except for the high-level overview and next steps slides), because my slides are primarily filled with videos and photos. There is nothing, I repeat: nothing, more important than showing rather than telling.
The majority of my presentation is letting these video clips run, watching the reactions on stakeholders' faces and then briefly explaining some context—with any recommendations moving forward.
It’s incredibly impactful to watch a user struggle with a feature that a team felt was super simple and obvious. Jaws drop and work gets done when people watch users “rage click” buttons and features.
✔ Use quant methods to support qual
I see a lot of executives and stakeholders start to squirm when I confidently say, “After talking with 12 users…” or “five out of seven users failed this task…” People still aren’t used to small numbers, even when it comes to qualitative user research.
I happily and resolutely stand by my small sample size, but not everyone is willing to see things my way. I’m constantly referring my stakeholders to research that states: you can find very impactful insights with even just five people.
However, when possible, I use quantitative data to supplement my qualitative data. For instance, if I see issues in a usability test around the check-out funnel, or on a search results page, I will go to Google Analytics to see click-through rates and drop-off rates. (But I always make sure to promote the qualitative research above all else.)
Make it actionable
✔ Give concrete recommendations
An absolute must in any user research presentation is including recommendations. These aren’t simply high-level recommendations stating changes that should be made—I display recommendations in a very straightforward way.
For every “issue” or “problem,” I provide a pointed recommendation, even if it's common sense. The team doesn’t have to do the recommendation in the exact way I describe, but it gives a starting point for where we should go, and allows teams to actually start doing.
✔ Include detailed next steps
In every presentation, I add “next steps” in the last slide. They tend to be fairly detailed. I point out when I will talk to the teams about the research, how the research will be incorporated, and any upcoming research projects.
✔ Demonstrate the “big picture” value
Executives and stakeholders want to see your impact. So provide them with information about how research is being incorporated into the backlog, how it’s impacted the roadmap, and ways it’s supporting company OKRs.
Make it fun
✔ Make research enjoyable
There are many other ways to share research outside of a simple report. Many stakeholders love these more creative methods. Sometimes I will put together UX comics, storyboards, or host a usability testing bingo or “movie night”.
It may be harder to get stakeholder schedules aligned for something like this—but you can also open it up to the rest of the company. Two birds, one research exhibit.
✔ Include funny messages or GIFs
I’m all for being professional, but I also think it's important to bring smiles and jokes into the workplace. I often scatter some funny memes or GIFs related to the research findings in my shareouts. This gets a bit of a laugh, can help break up any tension, and can refocus attention.
The worst thing you can do when you present research, or create a research report, is to build it in such a way that it sits in a folder somewhere, collecting dust. Insights need to be infused with excitement and urgency in order to promote action, and it is our job as researchers to do just that.
And, while the actual report is important, ensure it's presented in a way that's optimistic and knowledgeable. My presentation style has come a long way since that first, gradient-filled report, and I am thankful for all the failures along the way that taught me how to improve.
Nikki Anderson-Stanier is the founder of User Research Academy and a qualitative researcher with 9 years in the field. She loves solving human problems and petting all the dogs.
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