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Top 12 Tips for Presenting Employee Survey Results

The undertaking of developing and presenting an executive summary of employee survey results can be an overwhelming task. For many who work in people analytics, HR, or business insights, executive presentations may be the most visible and potentially influential work they do, yet a background in research doesn’t always provide the necessary information that will set up a presentation to be a success. This post will cover tips gathered from over a decade of working with executives and board members at many of the world’s top companies.

How to Approach Your Executive Presentation

  1. Be clear about your purpose. The purpose of effective business research is to enable leaders to make more informed decisions with greater speed and confidence. It is not to make us look smart, kill as many trees as possible with thick slide decks, or use data to advance any personal agenda we might have. Effective research and the resulting executive presentation will focus on understanding and meeting the needs of the audience. If we look smart in the process, that’s just a bonus.
  2. Know your audience. Understand their priorities, personality, and appetite for data. Some leadership teams will only want the highlights where others will not be satisfied with anything less than a deep dive into the data. Aligning the presentation with the audience’s needs will ensure their expectations are met, and they’re able to gain the most benefit from the time and information.
  3. Appreciate context. Context is key. Data is objective. It is only in context can we apply any kind of meaning to the data. It is also important to understand that while we often have access to mountains of data in the form of survey results, business metrics, and employee records, the audience also comes equipped with their own data. There may be other quantitative metrics they care about, but they also come with qualitative data, including things they’ve seen, heard, and experienced in their roles leading the organization. We do not have a complete picture of reality. They do not have a complete picture of reality. The truth of any situation is often a blend of our different perceptions.
  4. Remember the slides are not the presentation. The slides as supporting evidence that backs up the presentation. The observations and dialogue, which are firmly grounded in the data, are more powerful than the specific data on the slide. Focus on the additional value you will add in the moment to create more impact than what could be delivered through a static set of slides. Speaker notes are a helpful tool where observations or statements can stay without being visible on the slide. With practice, it will feel more like a conversation about the data than those presentations we’ve all sat through where it feels like someone is just dictating everything on the slide.
  5. Answer the important questions. There are an endless number of research questions, but the three big questions to ask and answer in any executive presentation are 1.) What does the data tell us?; 2.) Why does it matter?; and 3.) What can and should be done in response? The third question is the most important and most often overlooked. It is also the most important distinction between academic research and business research. Academic research seeks to identify new knowledge and opportunities for further research. Business research seeks to solve a business problem or address a management dilemma. This work is valuable when it leads to actions that are rooted in data-based insight.
  6. Suspend judgment. Another way to think of this is to stay very close to the data. It can be tempting to make a statement about a “good score” or “bad score” but those words bring judgment. It’s often more factually accurate to say a score is above or below an external benchmark. As you review both observations included in slides and those you plan to deliver during the presentation, constantly ask yourself, “How do I know this?” If the point is not clearly rooted in the data and supported by evidence, it is better to leave it out.
  7. Engage emotion. Remember that we are inherently emotional beings. We often make decisions at an emotional level first, and we only justify those ideas rationally after the fact. When you are presenting, understand that the data often represents both the victories and challenges experienced within the organization. Help the audience move beyond cold data and use it to paint a picture of the lived employee experience. A well-placed pause that allows the audience to sit and reflect on an important data point helps those ideas land rather than rushing through the entire presentation.
  8. Use visualization. Data visualization helps people process quantitative data quickly and easily, but this kind of visualization is different. When we encourage our audience to visualize the impact of data that represents some aspect of the employee experience, it enables them to connect beyond scores and appreciate the role they play in impacting meaningful change. Visualization makes the scores and experiences real. An example would be a statement like, “You can imagine how someone that does not believe the company cares about their health and well-being would be less likely to recommend the company as a great place to work,” when discussing a statistically significant correlation between well-being and employee engagement.
  9. Create consistency with connections. As you move through the results, the presentation should not feel like a set of disconnected slides or random points of data. Instead, if you’re talking about strengths within their data, remind them if one of the highest scoring items also scores well above external benchmarks. Or if a scaled item about teamwork improved significantly from the prior year, you may be able to remind them that “collaborative” was among the top descriptors of culture in employees’ own works. As you work through the data, maintain their attention and focus by highlighting important connections within the data. In quantitative research this is called “triangulation” where multiple data points serve to bring greater clarity to a point. We can also think of it as identifying the golden threat that we pull through the presentation to create consistency and make the ultimate conclusions that much more impactful.
  10. Resist the urge to go negative. Many leadership teams are primed to jump right to the low scores, metrics that have declined, or areas to which the company scores below benchmark. These are often teams that see themselves as problem solvers and they want to get right to the point. However, it is also important to acknowledge and help them appreciate the strengths present in their company. Those strengths are often required to address any current barriers to engagement. Therefore, by giving them the credit they deserve, we can help them build the anticipation of success and come up with more elegant solutions rather than jumping right to opportunities for improvement and trying to fix them with brute force. While it has been less common in my experience, some leadership teams see themselves as being “good news only.” If that is the case, it will be important to help them create balance where they also understand current limitations and avoid the rose-colored glasses. Low scores or disengagement are never the problem. They are symptoms of the problem, and ignoring them tends to only make things worse over time. The key is finding balance where we help leaders embrace a learning and growth mindset that recognizes strengths while also boldly addressing challenges.
  11. Guide the process of discovery. The audience should be seen as active participants in the presentation. This makes virtual presentations more challenging, but learn to read the room. If people are leaning in and seeking to understand a particularly data-dense slide, provide the time and space they need to process before moving on. Use points in the presentation to ask the audience for initial reactions, or share anything they saw that didn’t match their expectations. Encouraging them to discuss the results in real time allows them to better understand what they’re learning and creates opportunities for them to make their own discoveries. When the audience owns a discovery, they will be more likely to implement that new knowledge into their work because that discovery took place in the context of their prior knowledge and experience.
  12. Finish strong. Research shows how influential endings are in shaping our memory of an event. Structure the presentation to end on a high note or even better, lead them to draw their own powerful conclusions. Revisit the three key questions about what the data tells us, why it matters, and use the ending as a way for them to determine and commit to next steps rooted in the data. The real value in this work does not live in the slides or data we present – it’s in the actions leaders take as a direct result of the process of guided discovery.

Now, You’re Ready to Share Your Employee Survey Results

There’s often an inclination to let the data speak for itself, but presenting employee survey results to executives requires more than that. If you use the 12 tips listed above and prepare for your audience, your presentation will be a success. Additionally, working with a partner like Perceptyx that can help analyze the data and prepare a summary presentation is a great way to ensure great insights and actionable plans from your survey results. For more information on how Perceptyx helps clients implement a comprehensive employee listening program, schedule a demo today.

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