I am the parent of a three-year-old and a ten-month-old, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in these three years, it’s that parenting is mostly figuring out what your kids are telling you they want, then digging in to understand what they actually need.

Research is a lot like parenting. We spend most of our time looking beyond the surface of our customers’ behaviors to figure out which drivers are propelling their actions. As Thomas Mann said, “People’s behavior makes sense if you think about it in terms of their goals, needs, and motives.” It’s my job to try to understand these three things. As with my toddler, the behavior makes a lot more sense when you figure out what’s driving it.

As researchers, we spend most of our time discovering users’ needs. When I first started my career as a researcher, I focused mostly on the discovery portion of research and only a little on sharing what I’d found.

What I have learned over the years is that you need to spend as much time sharing your findings as you do gathering them. Why? Because your findings must be capable of existing without you as their guardian, for several reasons:

  • You may not be the product decision maker
  • You may not be in the room when a product decision is being made
  • You may change teams or leave the company, so the context surrounding your findings will leave with you

It’s critical that your stakeholders understand and articulate your findings and recommendations. The way you share these findings is important—both for making your work known and for your company’s success.

Reports are one-dimensional

As researchers, we tend to share findings in a report, using Word or Google Docs or, in my case, Dropbox Paper. But a report only goes so far.

Reports are largely one-dimensional. They can’t bring those findings to life, and they aren’t the best at resonating with your stakeholders. Think about the last doc you read. How long did it take you to forget what it said?

While there might not be any way to get around having to write a report, you should not stop there. Here are six effective tools for sharing findings so that stakeholders will understand and believe them. In doing so, perhaps they will also become your advocates.

Tactical ways to make your findings come alive

When I first made this list, it was in a pre–COVID-19 world. Now, more than ever, we are competing with short attention spans and mental overload. I’ve added a few new suggestions to this toolbox for you to use in a virtual world.

Workshops

How many of you have participated in a workshop? If you are a designer, you’ve likely participated in a design sprint or a How Might We (HMW) session. These activities are effective because they allow people to imagine, ideate, and create. They provide a space for stakeholders to dig into the details in a way that a report cannot, unless it’s lengthy.

Use a workshop to communicate your findings. Here’s one example we developed at Dropbox:

  • Our researcher created user story cards based on her findings, to illustrate the needs that had surfaced
  • She then paired up stakeholders and had them create HMWs using the story cards as guides
  • The workshop participants voted on the HMWs they wanted to pursue, and walked out of the session with clear next steps

A workshop provides a creative space to explore design possibilities, and it gets stakeholders involved in a meaningful way by inviting them into the process. My research findings are only as good as their implementation, which is why I love using workshops as a vehicle for communication. Workshops inspire action.

Pre-reads

With our work life mostly virtual these days, we are competing with numerous distractions and what feel like unique time constraints. We need to maximize the minutes of our workshop or presentation, and one way to do that is with a pre-read, which can include sending out related research or your own insights prior to the meeting. These can provide context for your stakeholders and allow more time for digging into the most important aspects of your work.

Breakout rooms

Keeping the audience engaged is key to bringing your findings to life. By using breakout rooms, you can provide an opportunity for engagement in almost any virtual platform.

Breakout rooms work well at the end of a presentation. Send a prompt to your audience. Divide them into smaller groups and have them discuss. This not only makes your presentation interactive, it also helps them understand your findings on a deeper level through peer discussion.

Participants checking for a workshop
Female participant wearing headphones watching workshop participants

Pop-up exhibits

A pop-up exhibit is simply a way to display artifacts from your findings. Like a museum installation, it allows people to distill and reflect on different parts of your work.

Think about visiting a museum with a friend. As you walk through the different exhibits, you each take away something a little different. You’re affected in different ways. That’s what a pop-up exhibit does for your team.

It also opens up your work to more people because it’s supposed to happen in a shared space, like a collaboration room or hallway. Unlike a workshop that is time bound, a pop-up exhibit is meant to last for a while, so it’s a good choice for evergreen findings, like journey maps that can be updated yearly.

How can you make a pop-up exhibit for the virtual workplace? Take your exhibit “theme” and create a happy hour for stakeholders. Play the role of museum curator and take them on a virtual tour of your collateral. Pairing fun music with maybe a few interactive games, you can bring the spirit of the tactical pop-up exhibit into the virtual world.

Collateral

Collateral refers to physical artifacts of your key takeaways. When the stakeholders leave your presentation, they can take the collateral with them. Whether it sits on their desk or affixes to their laptop, the findings are right in front of them and remain top-of-mind.

Laptop with stickers

Collateral is also a great tool because you can create it to fit your office culture. Maybe yours is not a laptop-sticker workplace. That’s fine because you could instead distribute flash cards, magnets, or posters—all examples of collateral we share at Dropbox.

Now that work is more distributed, digital collateral should be a consideration too. Try creating fun virtual backgrounds that participants can use later for their Zoom meetings. Or give them files to download, such as GIFs, audio, or short video clips, with content related to your presentation. These small takeaways can leave a lasting impression of an otherwise ephemeral online experience.

Brown bags

A brown bag is a casual presentation, usually over lunch. Unlike a formal presentation, a brown bag is intended to feel more like a “come as you are” gathering. I include this tool because it costs you nothing and asks little of your attendees. I like to hold these during a lunch break, where people can simply come, eat their food, and listen.

A brown bag can also facilitate richer discussions. Because it’s more casual, I will often design half of the session to include deeper conversation around a few key points. In this way, it’s more interactive than a formal presentation.

It’s about bringing your users’ world to life

Like a parent with their toddler, we researchers spend much of our time deciphering a user’s wish list in order to understand what they really need. The tools that I have shared with you are for bringing those needs to life and inviting stakeholders into your users’ worlds. The job will not be finished until the decision makers at your company have ingested your findings and acted to deliver an experience that meets user needs. I hope these tools can help make that happen.

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