How to use opinion research, sell it to leaders

One of my new favorite bloggers, Margie Clayman, published a post yesterday called “You Can’t Judge A Person By The Numbers.”  As a PR dude who works with opinion research data on a daily basis, this post struck a chord.

Margie’s primary point was we have to look beyond measuring ourselves with just numbers because we miss so much if we don’t. She’s dead right.  As I said in my comment to her post, data must be used in context because, alone, it does not tell the whole story.  I’ll add here it must also be presented with an audience in mind.

For the past 6 months at work in the popular five-sided building in D.C., my colleagues and I have been “iterating” on how best to present a boat load of opinion research survey data.  Well, why’s that so hard?  We should just report the findings, right? I wish it was that easy.

At least in my line of work where it’s our job to meet Air Force senior leader communication needs, data alone is not enough, especially these data. (Yes, it’s “these,” not “this.”  I learned that recently.  Am I the only one who didn’t know that?  Gulp.) Well, today is the inaugural presentation of data for this opinion research project to a room full of leaders who all have a vested interest, are crazy busy, and are used to data presented in a particular way.  Oh, by the way, they’re really smart people.

That said and much left unsaid, my team has scrutinized every last detail, including appearance of data tables and figures, colors, word choices, length of text, length of presentation and more.  Notice I didn’t even address the straight findings or the communication implications thereof.  That’s because what I just outlined had nothing to do with the findings and everything to do with the sell of the data.

In a way, the sell is more important for this inaugural report than the data itself.  Why?  Because people tend to be skeptical of numbers. They question what they don’t understand, such as statistics, factor analysis, standard deviation, margin of error and other worthless terms to those whom with you’re trying to build trust.  In a word, that is what we’ve spent the last half a year doing – working to build leadership’s trust upon contact with the findings.

While the team is tired and ready to move forward, we’re confident in the work we’ve done.  And we better be because if we’re wrong, the risk is project termination.

Do you deal with data, be it survey findings, lead generation, web site analytics or other types?  Do you factor in the “sell” at all?  What presentation methods work for you?

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One thought on “How to use opinion research, sell it to leaders

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