By Kevin Lonnie
“You can say that again!” Of course, the easy joke is to do just that and say it again. Unless you’re writing a research report filled with seemingly identical slides, then the joke is on you.
It’s no secret that we researchers love context. We feel the need to set the mood, establish the connections, and tie together all the loose ends. Left to our own devices, we would not reveal the ending until the closing moments, when all findings have been discussed and we have properly prepared the reader for the conclusion that we have so painstakingly positioned.
At last year’s TMRE I had the pleasure of watching Sheena Iyengar deliver her speech based on her book “The Art of Choosing”. To summarize, too much choice is demotivating. For example, when faced with a supermarket display of 6 jams and 24 jams, respondents were ten times more likely to buy from the display of just 6 jams.
That serves as the inspiration for this piece. I see an inverse relationship between report effectiveness and report length.
Most MR Deliverables are done in PowerPoint, which is a dreadful medium for conveying complex information. We then compound the problem by piling on the slides, using software to pre-populate an endless array of seemingly identical factoids.
The net result is to unwittingly replicate the “too much choice” paradigm. Our slides take on the communication properties of an overly crowded jam display.
As six jams represent the optimum number for consumer discrimination, I would argue six slides is the ideal length for a research report.
Those six slides should adhere to the rigors of a successful short story. And that is to immediately draw the reader into our story. If your readers can relate to our characters (i.e. customers), then they’re empowered with additional insight to make whatever decision lies before them.
And just so you don’t think I’m all about keeping it short and simple, let me also take issue with the other end of the scale, let’s call it the “Six Bullets on a Blackberry” concept. In my opinion, that’s not delivering insight, that’s simply providing minutia via a spoon full of sugar. Brevity for its own sake fails at communication because it never resonates in the first place.
In conclusion, think story first. Then work within the six slide framework. Be bold; engage in a compelling narrative from the beginning. Personify your respondents as if they were characters in a show that you are pitching. Make them leap off the page. Give the reader insight into underlying motivations.
If you’ve done your job, the spark to better decisions has been lit!