Tips for presenting qualitative data in a conference presentation

A few weeks ago over on the Research Companion Facebook group, group member Claire Adams asked the following question. “Just wondering if anyone had any top tips for presenting qualitative data results (from interviews) in a PowerPoint presentation? Thanks!!”

I replied: It depends on your time and budget, but nice examples I’ve seen include:
1. Giving people short excerpts from transcripts to read out/perform (that could be a co-presenter with you, or audience members you invite to participate).
2. You read out exchanges/quotes, perhaps with an illustration (cartoon, drawing, photo) that you’ve either made or picked, that compliments what’s being said.
3. If it’s dialogue or monologue you’ll be sharing, have friends/colleagues re-enact these for short film clips you show during the presentation.
4. Animate the story, so you have still images or a cartoon showing what people are talking about.
5. Print out some core quotes you want people to see/consider to small poster (A3 or A2) posters and tack them around the room. 6. If you have audio (and permission to share, while ensuring you’ve obscured identifying information) you could play that to the audience for them to listen to. All of this is dependent on the audience you have – their needs/abilities/skills, the kind of data you have, how sensitive/identifying it is, and what you’re wanting your audience to do (e.g. help you with further analysis or hear what you have to say).
7. Can any of the work lend itself to poetry, or musical interpretation? Might it become the basis of a song, rap or other spoken word performance?

The one thing not on this list is the most common means of presentation I’ve seen. Where people put a quote (or quotes) onto a slide then read it out. It’s another possibility, but if you’re trying to bring a talk to life it is (in my opinion) the least inviting option (and leads us neatly on to presentations from hell).

Kaye Rolls suggested “because its the theme or sub theme you are seeking to leave in the audience’s mind; find a image that illustrates this & read the quote. That way they getting the important info not trying to read”.

While Dan Denry recommended the following idea “I have found stick figure animation can be a brilliant tool for presenting qualitative information on key ethnographic groups and how they interact in select geographic locations, to multi-national audiences. Select and animate key points to give the audience context as you run through bullet points of related findings”

Graham Boniface noted “President is the way forward. More dynamic”

I recalled a nice presentation that had a discussion about the research (what they did, how they did it, and some pointers around the learning from the work). Then the final 3-4 minutes was a series of quotes on the screen cut with people holding signs with their quotes on all overlaid to a music track. (The presentation was about children’s experience of hospital stays). The data was all in there but it was more like watching a music video. Quotes that map a particular song could be nicer than just clicking through them. By the way much as I can’t stand people putting quotes on screen and then reading them, I appreciate from past audience feedback that if you can’t see the text then you do need to hear what’s been said. So again if you’re tempted down the video/music + quotes route it would be worth checking if that’s going to meet your audience needs, particularly for those who with visual problems.

This LSE guide, while focusing more on qualitative research generally (and, annoyingly, using the term ‘subjects’) does give some pointers that would structure a talk – particularly in terms of giving your audience more context about what you did, who you included, and what you found.

Meanwhile, these 5 foolproof ways to start any presentation may give you the confidence to put into action some of the suggestions above.

I’m glad Claire asked this question as having practical ideas and examples of dynamic qualitative presentations are well worth having. Not least as this kind of research should lend itself to engaging talks and events, and yet may seem flat, dull and overly-technical when presented to audiences.

Usually when I write blog posts on the how-to’s of research I can find other resources to share. And while there are plenty of guides on how to analyse qualitative data and present it in reports, papers and theses, I have not found the same kind of detailed advice for presenting your findings in oral presentations or via video, powerpoint etc.

If you have some examples of good practice, tips based on what you have seen working well or even clips of your own work you’d like to contribute, please share in the comments.

One response to Tips for presenting qualitative data in a conference presentation

  1. Celia Kitzinger
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    Some great ideas here – but you’ve simply assumed that research participant identities will be kept anonymous. This is often true – but need not be, and as social scientists I think there are good ethical and practical reasons for questioning the routine anonymising of our research participants. A conference presentation is enormously enhanced by showing video-clips of the actual participants in your interviews/focus groups or whatever. In our research on family members of people with acquired severe brain injury we are filming our research participants and we routinely show clips in our talks (where we might have read extracts off the slides before!). You can see examples of our clips on a website here:
    Obviously this may not be possible for all participants all of the time and obviously it needs to be approved by an ethics committee. But just to note that we have been successful in doing this despite researching a legally and ethically sensitive topic (e.g. interviews include families going through the court process to withdraw treatment and allow the patient’s death). We have written a couple of articles with reference to specific examples from our own data about why we are doing this and how we implemented it in practice.

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