8 Essential Questions for a Winning Data Presentation

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WHAT ARE THE RIGHT QUESTIONS TO ASK FOR A WINNING DATA PRESENTATION?

It’s five minutes before closing time.

Lea-Pica_8-Essential-Prepresentation-Questions_PhoneYou’re finishing up your last email of the day, and…the phone rings. It’s your manager/client/VP of Marketing, and they drop the bomb on you:

“I need you to come present some web traffic stats at a strategy meeting next week.”

Gulp. What are you feeling right now? Panic? Dread? Meh? If so, why do you think that is? Do you find that despite rattling off every number and trend line in your reporting they’re still…unsatisfied? Like somehow, you missed the mark?

Or a meeting that seemed small and informal on paper turned out to be a department-wide show that left you like a deer in headlights?

If so, I’ve totally been there. In my experience, there is one important reason why many presentations fail to capture the minds and hearts of your stakeholders:

YOU DIDN’T KNOW WHAT YOUR AUDIENCE ACTUALLY WANTED.Lea-Pica_8-Essential-Prepresentation-Questions_DOH

All the fancy PowerPoint flourishes and Excel chart mastery in the world don’t mean bupkiss if the material doesn’t speak directly to your audience’s deepest desires.

Worse yet, our stakeholders are not always the greatest at articulating what those desires are. We add our value as the analysts and marketers on the front line by helping them connect the dots between our data dot plots.

Well, there’s good news: I’m giving you a foolproof way to capture your audience’s needs before you even step foot in your reporting or presentation builder.

What do the most successful brands like Apple and Amazon have in common? Customer-centricity. In this case, you have to treat your internal or external audience like a paying customer. No more throw-some-visit-counts-in-a-pie-chart-and-call-it-a-day slide piles.

This means…research. It means asking the right questions up front. It could mean creating an audience persona to speak to. I know, I know…sounds like a lot of extra work. But this is work that pays off and means the difference between your executive shaking your hand and asking for more, and a tepid, “Well, uh, thanks.”

Today, I’m going to walk you through a tried-and-tested process that will enable you to capture the details you need to inform your analysis. As a bonus, grab my free subscriber-only Pre-Presentation Questionnaire and we’ll walk through how to use it right now!

Ready? Let’s do this.

THE EIGHT ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE A DATA PRESENTATION

Before you start diving into any of your data or open your Powerpoint, you need to have a blueprint for your analysis. Once they’ve made their request, DO NOT LET THEM HANG UP. Ask them these important questions:

1. What is the purpose and objective of the meeting?
Hopefully…there is one. I am amazed how many meeting invites arrive in my inbox with a vague title and no description or agenda. This is a good indicator that the goal of the meeting is a little…squishy. And it could lead to a major disconnect between what you present and what they were looking for. [Gently] push them to articulate a clear goal.

2. What decisions will my insights be potentially influencing?
This may be the most important question you ask, and gets to the heart of what it means to be a “data-driven” organization. The answer will help you frame the analysis to be a prescriptive solution instead of a random pile of metrics.

3. Who else is attending the meeting?
Are we talking high-level, heavy-hitting C-suite, or more tactical and savvy marketing folks? What problems keep them up at night that you can help them solve? Understanding your audience is a crucial exercise, and a topic I plan to be covering in more depth in the future.

4. What date range of data are you looking for?
This seems stupid simple, but knowing this up front saves a lot of back-and-forth, and the answer could reveal the need for trending. If they’re not set on a specific range, make sure the one you choose includes enough data to complete the analysis objective.

5. What are 3 – 5 questions you’d like to “ask” the data?
Getting vague requests for “numbers” or “the latest metrics” happens a lot and leaves room for ambiguity when you’re tackling your analysis. Rather than drag every metric you have to the table, engage them to help you laser-focus the insights with answers to the questions vital to making business decisions.

ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS
Your executive may not know these next few details at that moment, but they are essential nonetheless. When that meeting invite comes in, pay close attention to the specifics and make friends with the meeting coordinator to get on the same page:

6. Is this part of a larger meeting? If so, how much time do I have to present?
Understanding your time slot is essential for presentation planning & delivery prep. You want to make sure you’re not cramming 45 minutes worth of analytical gold into a 10-minute slot.

7. Where is the meeting being held, and what are the technical details?
Visualizing the delivery of your presentation is an important exercise, so familiarize yourself with your “stage” in advance. Avoid summoning the “technical difficulties” troll we see all too often by nailing down your technical audio/visual details beforehand. I’ll be going deeper on these presentation prep techniques soon, so stay tuned!

8. Will there be anyone joining remotely?
Also important for technical setup, you’ll need to make sure there’s a webinar link and conference line available for remote participants. Online presentations present a unique set of challenges which I’ll be discussing soon.

And those are the basics! By asking the right questions up front, you feel confident that your presentation will hit its mark.

I have a couple of bonus tips for you to make this process more efficient:

– Take copious notes during the call, preferably handwritten. I am a violently noisy typist, and have been called to the mat with my audible digital note-taking during client calls.

I’ve retrained myself to use a simple notepad and paper to jot down key points, which lets me pay closer attention to my client. Now I just have to remember how to write more legibly so that I can decode my chicken scratch later. Baby steps.

– Better yet, keep these questions in a notebook or on a cheat sheet. Better better yet,
download my free questionnaire and keep it in a shiny frame on your desk. Yes, that will do.

– This doesn’t have to feel terribly formal; make it conversational and show that you are vested in making this presentation as valuable to them as possible.

FINAL THOUGHTS

You now you have an effective diagnostic tool for teasing out what your audience is really asking for during your data presentation. Go the extra mile to provide them with exactly what they want, even if though they don’t exactly know how to say it.

Here’s Your Next Step:

Click the image below to download the presentation questionnaire for free and you’ll receive all of my updates and tools:

Lea Pica - Download your Free Pre Presentation Questionnaire

Lea is a digital analyst and marketer turned Data Storytelling Advocate. She trains thousands of digital practitioners and consultants in the art and science of impactful data presentation through live workshops, speaking engagements, online courses, her blog and five-star rated podcast, The Present Beyond Measure Show. Lea is also the creator of The PICA Protocol™, her practical prescription for healthy, actionable data stories that inform decisions, spark ideas, inspire action, and make YOU indispensable.