I had one big question that led me to four more important questions, "How do you convince someone to pay attention to your message?"
I once read that people form their opinion of you within 30 seconds of meeting you. The proliferation of communication platforms and the people that know how to use them has further reduced this 30 second window into 7 seconds, 140 characters, or one image to communicate an entire narrative. Essentially, to survive today, impactful brevity is a must in all forms of communication.
For researchers, final reports are one of our few avenues of communication. I've thought a lot about how to get and more importantly keep people's attention during these presentations. This can be a challenge for researchers because we spend most of our time talking to people about numbers, and let's face it numbers aren't always that sexy.
The struggle to find impactful brevity led me to four questions that, when asked at the right time, typically make the narrative of numbers a little more attention grabbing.
"In your opinion, what does project success look like?"
This question needs to be asked during the very first conversation you have with your stakeholder. Be persistent in getting an answer you understand, because the better your understanding of what you are solving for, the more concise you can be with delivering the results. For example, if the project objective is to understand how to increase share but the company can't do a product or packaging redesign, don't recommend new packaging.
"What's the most important thing I've learned?"
Becoming a data curator is one of the hardest things for researchers. We become so attached to the stories our data tells because we spend so much time getting to know the data. There is no short cut for doing good research, but being a great communicator means delivering only the crucial findings. Be strategic in what you include in the final deliverable. It is often helpful to write the executive summary first, not last, because once you know what the destination looks like you can take the most direct path to get there.
"Who is the audience for this deliverable?"
The CEO and the research team should not get the same report because their next steps won't look the same. The main message is consistent, but the delivery should be tailored to each audience. While a researcher may want to hear about how you arrived at your conclusion, the CEO will most likely only want the conclusion as she trusts the researcher has fully vetted the finding.
"If this were a game of telephone, what would I want the end message to be?"
The goal is to make your report live on, so make sure the message is easy to identify, relevant, and simple to repeat. Put in other words, make sure any one can walk out of the meeting with the big idea. We have all most likely played the childhood game of telephone where a message like, "She lost her keys." turns into, "Please pass the peas." If you can leave your audience with something that is compelling and easy to pass on, your message stands a better chance of surviving with its initial integrity intact.
While these questions are fairly easy to ask, they take practice to implement.