The art of presentation: the Old Salt approach

The importance of presentation

Long before PowerPoint, Google Slides and infographics, Marshall McLuhan published a seminal book on media, with the first chapter famously titled ‘The Medium is the Message’. For McLuhan, it was the medium itself that shaped and controlled “the scale and form of human association and action”[i]. This sentiment is no less true today as the media for communication continue to multiply and the volume of content grows exponentially.

In a multi-media, information-rich world, we need to pay more attention than ever to the medium of our message – in other words how we’re communicating the insights we uncover in our work. The stories we tell must have style as well as substance if they are to cut through and change perceptions or prompt action.

At Old Salt, telling meaningful stories underpinned by methodological rigour and robust data is central to our brand identity; Old Salt is a nautical term for an experienced sailor and skilful teller of tales. Our brand not only reflects our nautical heritage, but also represents our research know-how and the importance of how we communicate what we learn.

In this post, we wanted to share an overview of some of the guiding principles we adhere to when preparing a client presentation to ensure our messages land with impact.

Always consider the end audience(s)

The first thing to consider when designing any output is its end audience. How much time will they have? How knowledgeable are they about the research methods used? Are they a details person or do they just want the big picture? But most importantly – which insights are directly relevant to their role? These are the questions we ask ourselves when deciding which formats to use for our outputs and keep top of mind throughout the design process.

The choice starts with output type: reports to be read, online and printed collateral like infographics, or slides to be presented – either workshop or conference style. We then consider branding. We’re proud of the Old Salt brand and regularly collaborate with a graphic designer to elevate our outputs, but we also recognise that sometimes client branding is the most effective backdrop. Many other considerations follow after this; whether we lead with a killer insight or layer up to this with context, how much signposting we include, whether recommendations are overarching or targeted by business function, every output is bespoke to best meet the needs of the end audience.

So what?

Insights are only meaningful if they change perceptions or prompt action, and the ability to design a simple but striking representation of each core insight is crucial to their memorability. For every finding that we deliver, we consider how it will impact our audience(s), with its relevance and ramifications guiding our design decisions.

We believe the ability to always consider the so what? of our insights comes from a combination of close collaborative client relationships and our own deep sector expertise. We partner with a select range of clients and only work on a small number of projects at any one time, ensuring each one gets our full focus. As a small agency of two directors, we live and breathe each project, working in parallel on every stage, always with an eye on the end goal.

The detail is the devil

This header isn’t a typo, but a reminder that too much detail can be an impact killer. We might revel in the details of a complex methodology with detailed sampling criteria and several layers of advanced statistical analysis, but we know our clients often don’t (sob!). They’re most interested in the output – the insights.

While we’re always transparent about the steps we’ve taken to uncover our findings (and would jump at the chance to host a method workshop for anyone interested!), we ensure that the main part of our output is simple, covering only the most necessary methodological information relevant to the broadest audience. To get to this place of simplicity, we often build in a working session with the core project team to show our workings, so to speak, and shape the narrative and design of the final outputs together.

Kill your darlings!

Crafting a succinct and compelling story takes time and iteration. As both of us will have immersed ourselves in the data during the analysis phase, it’s important we take a step back to revisit the objectives and remind ourselves of the end audience. More often than not, this process is about streamlining and simplifying. Can this insight be instantly understood? Is this finding essential to the core narrative? Is this conclusion telling us something genuinely new? We’re not afraid of stripping back copy and moving slides to an appendix (or the trash bin!) if the answer is no.

We also data check and proofread everything we produce. With our names above the door, we don’t ever want to get it wrong. We’ll be honest, it isn’t the most exciting part of the project, but it’s one of the most important, and we try to bring some joy to it by using traffic light emojis to denote whether a slide is good to go or needs a second look!

We hope this snapshot of our approach to preparing a presentation has been insightful – delivering findings to clients is the most rewarding part of our job!
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[i] McLuhan, Marshall (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.