Capturing the Beast by Donna Fitzpatrick, Catwalk Solutions


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Donna Fitzpatrick of Catwalk Solutions addresses the psychology of presentation design with a number of valuable presentation tips, such as sharing stories, using graphics for emphasis, and where possible, breaking down insights into easily digestible “bites.”

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Capturing the Beast by Donna Fitzpatrick, Catwalk Solutions

  1. 1. ©2012 Donna Fitzpatrick, Catwalk Solutions
  2. 2. 2     This presentation was given at the 2012 NorthWest MRA Spring Educational Conference. The conference took place in Portland, Oregon at OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) during its “Wild Minds: What Animals Really Think” event. Inspired by the Wild Minds exhibit, I turned to the workings of the human brain and posed the question: Is our traditional method of presenting market research findings creating a barrier to our clients’ understanding of them and hindering subsequent actions regarding them? The title of my talk, “Capturing the Beast,” refers to the mind of the typical market research presentation attendee. The following is approximately what I said during my presentation. Donna Fitzpatrick
  3. 3. 3    How we present market research findings.Ironically, while we take pride in our research product and resulting insights,there’s strong evidence that how we report and present can be a barrier to ourclients’ learning and motivation. We often bury the gold in a lot of extraneous detailand ho-hum delivery. The too-frequent result: a client who either pays insufficientattention to the findings or fails to act on them.We can take inspiration from the OMSI Wild Minds exhibit. It examines creatures’brains and how they work, including what is instinctual behavior versus learningand applied problem-solving. This gave me the idea to look at the brain of theaverage research presentation attendee in order to figure out how better tocommunicate research findings.So let’s look at what people really think.Actually it’s more like HOW people really think. First, though, I have a story about how I came to this point. Like many of you, I was introduced to research through academia. And, as you know, academia has some pretty rigid ways of doing things, starting with the default format for reports.There’s the background, then we add objectives andresearch design, followed by a high-level summary andmore details about findings. Next up is our list ofrecommendations. Finally, we pack everything else intothe appendix.The problem is that a reader or audience has to wait untilnearly the end to see what exactly has been found anddiscover what should be done about it.
  4. 4. 4    While I conducted research in grad school, I didn’t actually apply those skills untilyears later, after having worked as a packaged goods marketer and as anadvertising account manager.With those two disciplines plus my grad studies as grounding, I really hadcommunications theory under my belt. And I had a lot of experience in attractingand persuading consumers to do stuff or to want stuff. Yet, when I expanded myresponsibilities to include custom market and advertising research, I abandoned mycommunications experience. Not once did I stop to think about how tocommunicate research persuasively. Instead, I returned to that stale, defaultacademic format, believing that this was the professional way to go.Are all those details really necessary?I was passionate about walking clients through the methodological details so theycould see the care I took in putting together the work and, more importantly, howthe framework affected my interpretation of the findings. Furthermore, I certainlydidn’t want them to miss any of the findings I derived, so there was a huge amountof detail delivered in thick reports. My verbal presentations of findings andrecommendations took the same format (and almost as much detail) as my writtenreports. The result: clients were inundated by a brain dump of information.Still, clients were complimentary about my work. And, to them, those thick reportsshowed “value” for their research investment dollar. Nonetheless, I had a naggingsuspicion clients really didn’t “get” the nuggets I was showing and that thosereports often lay forgotten on some shelf somewhere. Worse yet, I feared mycarefully conceived recommendations were rarely acted upon. That meant the valueof my work was effectively $0.But it really wasn’t the clients’ fault. Injournalism terms (my undergraduate degreewas in journalism), I was burying my lead in alot of extraneous stuff. Even worse, I wasoverwhelming my clients in the process.
  5. 5. 5    Since then, I have experimented with various formats and tools to help mecommunicate research findings more memorably and persuasively. Here are someof the ideas I gathered along the way, starting with the elements most critical tohuman learning.How the human brain works. Meet Dr. John Medina, Developmental Molecular Biologist, Affiliate Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington, and Director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University. His book, “Brain Rules,” recapped what scientists agree about the brain and how people learn things. Sadly, judging by human learning science, it is no surprise that the default research report format is just about the worst way one can deliver findings to a presentation attendee. And it certainly doesn’t motivate anyone to act on our recommendations.Every second the body sends to the brain around 11 million pieces of information.Yet only 40 to 50 are processed consciously and most of those are about oursurroundings. The brain prioritizes the information to first examine the stimuliconcerning the body (am I too cold, too warm, too hungry), the environment(where am I, where should I go next, is there danger), and time (is it getting late).Our ancestors learned to filter stimuli in this order because our very survivaldepended on us being able to quickly pick and choose what to pay attention to . . .lest we be eaten.We really have 3 brains, working in tandem.  The first is the lizard brain that helps keep all our automatic bits functioning, like breathing.  The second is the mammalian brain which Dr. Medina noted is in control of the 4 Fs: Fighting, Fleeing, Feeding and . . . . Reproductive Activities.  The last is the human brain, the cortex.
  6. 6. 6    The cortex constantly communicates with the other brains, but also tries to makesense of the world. In fact, it is this brain that led humans to develop symbolicreasoning and to understand one another’s intentions and motivations. Yet the brain has a lot on its plate and tends to tune out if not stimulated. In fact, human learning science found that people don’t pay attention to boring things. Initially, one only has seconds to capture a person’s interest and only 10 minutes to keep it. And then something must be done to regain the person’s attention.This is especially important to me today because I started my talk a little before3pm, the time brain scientists say human brains really want to take a nap. So Ihave to work especially hard to keep you alert and interested.How to appeal to the human brain.In a presentation or in a meeting, we must re-engage attendees’ attention EVERY10 MINUTES. Fortunately there are a number of ways to do it.  The brain likes exercise. Brain scientists found that physical exercise benefits the parts of the brain most active in memory formation. Dr. Medina wrote “physical activity is cognitive candy.” While I don’t want you to walk out of here right now, I CAN and WILL ask you to stand up and stretch. Rotate your shoulders. Roll your head. Now shake your hands hard.  The brain likes repetition and hierarchy. The typical human brain can hold 7 new pieces of information for less than 30 seconds. To lengthen that time, the brain needs to be re-exposed to the information. Ninety percent of what you hear from me today will be forgotten, starting within minutes of my talk, unless I provide you with some memory hooks. Therefore I’m going to be referring back to things from time to time. Also, I arranged my talk in a flow that should make sense to you. Repetition and hierarchy are important tools in shifting information from your temporary, working brain into memory.
  7. 7. 7      The brain likes elaborate, complex things. This sounds anti-intuitive, but when engaged, the brain likes to sift through a lot of stimuli while it works to make sense of things.  The brain likes context and meaning. That’s why story-telling and metaphors are powerful tools for communicators. In fact, stories engage the brain far better than facts do. And metaphors help clarify concepts.  The brain likes emotions. Hopefully you’re having fun listening to my talk. Ironically, though, if I really scared you, you’d probably be more successful at remembering what I said, even days later.  The brain likes having all the senses touched. That’s why I’m talking and moving around in front of you. That’s why I’m showing you pictures. That’s why I asked you to stand up and wiggle around a minute ago. If I had thought of an effective and pertinent way, I would have engaged your senses of taste and smell as well.Vision is the critical sense.The most powerful sense is vision. Between 1/3 and 1/2 of the typical human brain isinvolved in vision. Ironically, text isn’t a strong visual tool because brains don’t seeletters as letters. They are seen as little individual pictures. Therefore the brain hasto work to recognize patterns in each letter “picture.” Then the patterns in thecombined pictures that make a word must be found. And finally, the meaning of theword has to be derived and applied across a combination of words. It takes thebrain a while to go through this process. Consequently, reading is a slow way to putinformation into the brain.1Text is more effective when accompanied by supportive images. Even audio lackspower unless accompanied by pictures. After 3 days, the typical brain remembers10% of what it hears. Add pictures, and the brain can remember up to 65%.                                                            1  Note: This has interesting implications both for documents like this one and for PowerPoint bullet points. 
  8. 8. 8    Vision trumps everything. Furthermore, vision with motion is even more engaging.Most likely this tendency is due to our primitive ancestors’ need to be on constantlookout for possible attack.The brain can create new meaning.Vision can actually change meaning. And it can make up things that really aren’tthere. A cool example of this is the McGurk Effect, first described in a 1976research paper by Harry McGurk and John MacDonald. Go to YouTube to see Arnt Maasø’s demonstration of the effect.2 It’s a very short clip. Listen to it the first time with your eyes closed. Then listen again, but this time watch the video too. Most people hear the repeated phoneme “ba” when their eyes are closed. With open eyes, most think the phonemebeing said is “da.” But actually the mouth is forming another phoneme altogether,“ga.” The combination of the real sound (“ba”) with a visual mouthing of anothersound (“ga”) makes the brain think it hears a sound that’s not even there (“da”).Stories and cadence are powerful allies.Through the years, Nancy Duarte’s design firm (Duarte Design, located in SiliconValley) has created thousands of presentations for major companies. I recently sawa video of Duarte delivering a presentation of her own. It was fascinating. Thetopic: The Secret Structure of Great Talks.3The best presentations use storytelling. The classicformat for stories was uncovered by Joseph Campbellin his life-long study of comparative mythology. It’scalled The Hero’s Journey. The ancient myths followthat form, as do movies, books and many stories. Thebasic elements are these:                                                            2  McGurk Effect (  Duarte’s Talk (  
  9. 9. 9      A hero is contentedly pursuing his (or her) everyday life.  He is enjoined to carry out a specific challenge or adventure. In myths, the one establishing the challenge is usually a god. In modern books or movies, it could be anyone or even an imminent situation.  But the hero is loath to make the extra, usually scary, effort.  A while later, however, he meets up with someone who helps him. This is the mentor. In myth that mentor is often a goddess or sorceress.  As a result, our hero steps out to take on the challenge.In a presentation, Duarte posited, the hero is the audience and the mentor is thepresenter.4 Duarte added: a presenter isn’t Luke Skywalker. A presenter is Yoda.Powerful communicators also use cadence in their speech. Think Martin Luther Kinghere. Duarte felt, if she looked hard enough, she could uncover a classic rhythmand form to stong speeches. She analyzed a slew of presentations, including SteveJobs’ iPhone launch and Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. And she found aninteresting pattern.Effective presentations swing back and forthbetween the pain of a current situation andthe wonder of “what could be.” The trick forthe presenter is to make the status quounappealing and to make the future as bigand bright as possible.Motivate by sharing the vision.Borrowing from Campbell, Duarte called the world of “what could be” The NewBliss. She said the continual back and forth between “what is” and “what could be”provides audiences the chance to be persuaded a bit at a time until everyone is inagreement about the desirability of the proposed utopian future. That future wouldhinge, of course, on something specific being achieved, such owning a brand newiPhone or demanding equal rights.                                                            4  Note: subsequent to my talk, Amanda Durkee of Zanthus sent me a link to Simon Sinek’s 2009 TED Talk, in which he pre‐echoed Duarte’s hypothesis about the audience being the hero in a presentation situation.  His discussion of a leader’s calling syncs nicely with brain science too. ( 
  10. 10. 10    Duarte maintained the very movement of going back and forth, back and forth isfar more compelling than just once describing “now” versus “a new, shiny future.”Brain science agrees. A sequential learning process is engaging to brains. The brainlikes snippets of ideas, repeated in a variety of ways over a period of time.This has enormous implications forhow we could share researchresults and insights. Rather than ina single brain dump, can wedeliver information in sequentialsnippets, via different senses,maybe via different media?Hybrid research is all the rage these days. What about hybrid reports andpresentations? What can we do to change how we present based on what we knowabout the human brain?Handy presentation tools are readily available. A number of years ago, I ran into an interesting article by Bill Jensen, founder of The Jensen Group. He’s a time management expert, but I was struck by something he wrote about efficient and effective communications: Before every meeting, email, presentation or letter, decide specifically what you want your communication recipients to come out KNOWING, what you want them to FEEL about it, and what exactly you want them to DO as a result.This process focuses your communications tremendously.Furthermore, it’s interesting about the FEEL part. While not normally seen asimportant in the business world, brain science tells us if an audience really feels anemotion connected with transferred information, the audience will remember theinformation better and be more inclined to act on it. Both Jobs and Dr. King wereexperts at stimulating emotions within their audiences. Emotions such as fear,laughter, happiness, incredulity, and nostalgia are all intriguing to the typicalhuman brain. Think about how you can trigger emotions during your presentations.
  11. 11. 11    I came across another useful tool in 2008. Cliff Atkinson’s book “Beyond BulletPoints” induced me to alter my presentation planning process. He recommendedpresentations be story-boarded, just like is done for cartoons, movies and televisionads. Before story-boarding, however, he suggested plotting out the essentialpoints. To aid that effort, Atkinson provided a handy planning template which I’veused (in combination with Jensen’s Know, Feel, Do) ever since.Atkinson’s template sets upthe story from the audience’sviewpoint right from the get-go. It insures the presenter isvery clear about whatchallenge the audience faces(Point A), where it wants orneeds to be (Point B) and howto get that audience from A toB (The Call to Action).Knowing that the brain islimited regarding the numberof information pieces it canhold at one time, Atkinsonsuggested applying the powerof 3. He maintained that noone should introduce morethan 3 key points defendingthe proposed call to actionduring a 5-minute speech.If the speech is 15 minutes in length, rather than adding points, he advocatedsupporting each key point with up to 3 illustrative explanations. If the speech islonger, say 45 minutes or like my hour-long presentation today, every supportiveexplanation can have up to three supportive details.All this builds in repetition and hierarchy. As we’ve already seen, the brain is moreprone to be engaged and to remember concepts presented this way.
  12. 12. 12    Learn how to use visuals.There are a lot of resources that can help, such as:  Textbooks and other references. Explore the many good books available on the subject. To the right are a few well- thumbed (and heavily book-marked) texts I have in my office.5  Ideas borrowed from your colleagues. Nielsen is thinking a lot about better ways to present data. The company recently held a contest for data design and announced the winner right before the NWMRA conference. Currently Nielsen is inviting visitors to its site to vote for a Fan Favorite among selected finalists. Make your choice.6 Tom Peters would be proud.  Visual thinking and visual meetings. The Grove facilitates meetings and translates what’s said into a wall-wide (or more) visual recording as the meeting progresses. The result is a part text/part cartoon recap of proceedings.7 This process has been shown to be effective in gaining participants’ engagement and understanding, stimulating their creativity and providing them an effective means to remember the points discussed. Furthermore, the resulting work can be transformed into a poster that is exceedingly helpful in explaining to new audiences the results of that meeting. The Dachis Group recently merged with Portland’s XPlane and inherited its once-monthly free-to-the-public Visual Training School.8 This is a great opportunity for non-artist business people to rub shoulders with arty sorts and together explore the use of visual thinking and facilitation.  Mind maps. I use mind maps for just about everything, from planning a project to brainstorming ideas for a speech. One can simply pick up a pen and paper or use one of the mind mapping software applications. Mindjet Mindmanager is the one I use. MindGenius is another good one.                                                            5  Note: After my NWMRA presentation, I discovered one of my favorite presentation writers, Garr Reynolds, had reviewed Medina’s “Brain Rules” and found, as I did, huge implications for making presentations. Furthermore, Reynolds took 3 of the 12 Brain Rules and applied them in a stand‐alone slide show. (‐rules‐for‐presenters) 6  Nielsen InfoGraphic Contest Results ( 7  The Grove Website ( 8  The Dachis Group, Visual Training School (  
  13. 13. 13      Storytelling. While not essentially visual, the brain finds storytelling a vivid way to learn. There are a number of resources for storytelling, including several here in Portland. One of them, Portland Storytellers Guild, has a two- day Festival of Stories coming up in June.9Bigger brains are better.Exploring tools like these will help us become bettervisual thinkers and also better communicators. Inaddition, the exploration process will help grow ourbrains. Literally.Our brains are very plastic and every experiencechanges them. In fact, Darwin found that creaturesin the wild had 15-30% bigger brains than those incaptivity. The wild brains grew from having morestimulation. Those creatures who successfullyprocessed and reacted to the stimuli survived andeven thrived.Survival isn’t a big issue for market researchers, but thriving brains are importantin our work. As Dr. Medina reminded us, the brain acts as a muscle. The moreactive a person is, the larger and more complex the brain can become. Just imaginewhat you can do with a bigger, more evolved brain.Let’s get started.Individually, we can work on our presentation skills. Collectively, we should shareour discoveries of better ways to communicate insights and motivate clients. We have an initial challenge though. Improved communications means extra preparation time. Extra preparation time means additional cost. Yet, as we all know, our clients prefer getting their research done quickly and cheaply.                                                            9  Portland Storyteller’s Guild, Festival of Stories (  
  14. 14. 14    Therefore, not only must we create and share presentation best practices. We mustalso help one another find effective ways to convince clients of the value of theadded work. After all, a rising tide lifts all boats.In the meantime, here are seven things you can doright now to get you ready for your next presentation.  Think it through. When starting a research project, plan ahead for the report and the presentation. What is your audience like? Do you need to present differently to audience segments? Where are they located? Is there a way you can apply brain science to insure the best learning and memory-inducing situations for each audience?  Allocate time. The communications effort will take a considerable chunk of time to do well. Therefore, plan for it.  Apply multisensory stimuli. How can you transmit your findings to create an information-rich experience for your audience? What senses can you touch? What media mix might you use?  Consider phased delivery. Maybe you can present findings in a series of short events or in a 2-day workshop. Perhaps you can engage your client in short status meetings where the client can be exposed to the process as well as to your emerging insights in real time, gaining buy-in as you go.  Recap to support memory. Not only should you recap your main points during a presentation, but consider developing something additional such as a pocket-sized summary card or a large poster for the client to refer to.  Practice practice practice. This is an area that I’m especially bad about since I’m the kind of person who, after doing something once, is ready to move on to other, newer things. But I can assure you that I would be a far better communicator if I practiced more. And I bet you would too.  Stimulate your brain. Go outside market research to explore how other industries or groups present complex findings. Can we learn from them? What can we learn from improvisation, basic design, storytelling, theater, fine art, or science? Experiment with different presentation tools. Be on the lookout for new ways to deliver your insights more memorably.
  15. 15. 15    As market researchers, we advocateevery day the importance of suchresearch in our clients’ decision-making and innovation. A differentkind of research, brain science, can beleveraged in ways that result in ourbeing more effective and persuasivecommunicators of our market researchinsights.Together, we can achieve the new bliss.I have personally seen Michelangelo’s magnificent fresco, the Creation of Adam, acouple of times. This work is especially meaningful to me. In fact, I use a detail of it (the near-touching hands) as wallpaper on my computer monitor and even on my iPhone. To me, this one portion of the work captures perfectly the instant of the creative spark. Even this funny line art rendering inspires in me a feeling of creative promiseand a frisson of joy. I hope you are feeling some of that anticipation and pleasuretoo as you ponder the things I’ve shared with you today.Let’s reach out to one another. We can cross the threshold hand-in-hand towardthe New Presentation Bliss.
  16. 16. 16    Here’s a little about me.I have worn a lot of communications-related hats throughoutmy career, including marketing executive, advertisingstrategist, market and customer researcher, focus groupmoderator, brainstorm and workshop facilitator, productinnovation consultant and business strategy coach.My company is Catwalk Solutions, a customer engagementconsultancy focused on forging stronger connections between organizations andtheir internal and external customers.My motto: Stand out. In a good way.10I’m currently compiling an annotated bibliography of presentation resources andtools. If you’d like a copy, please drop me a line or give me a call. Donna Fitzpatrick Customer Engagement Strategist Catwalk Solutions Tel: 503.219.9350 Cel: 503.780.8839                                                            10  Photo Credits: To help my NWMRA presentation stand out, I acquired images from one of my favorite presentation resources, The picture of Dr. Medina is from a press kit on his “Brain Rules” site. The other images are home made.