You’ve probably heard the statistic that roughly 90% of an iceberg lies below the water’s surface. That means only 10% of it is visible. The same holds true for presentations as well. What you see when someone presents is only a small portion of the process. What lies below the surface is often research.

You may have a team helping you, or you may be the sole researcher for your project. Either way, the amount of effort you put into researching for your project is directly related to the success of your presentation.

However, most people seem to have negative connotations about research. They think of sitting in a dusty library or spending hours on a computer. But really, it’s about the hunt. It’s about finding patterns, making connections, building foundations, discovering anomalies, and establishing a background. So let’s talk about the research process and how to do it well.

Set Aside Time and Money

First, you’ll want to make sure you have enough time to research properly. Depending on the scope of your presentation and the amount of information that needs to be backed up, you might need to leave weeks or even months for researching.

You should also set aside some money for the research portion of your presentation. Why? Because often, you’ll need to access data through subscriptions or downloads, and there are costs associated with those. Especially if the research is fairly new. If you don’t have time to engage in lengthy research, you might consider hiring a research assistant to help with locating supporting information.

Evaluate Your Sources

In the age of the internet, it can be difficult to evaluate the strength of a source. To decide whether it’s a valid source, use the CARS principle. This helps to determine if a source is credible, accurate, reasonable, and supported. Read more about how to conduct a CARS source evaluation here.

In addition, make sure your research is up to date. For topics that are especially time sensitive, you’ll need to be examining the information coming out right up to the time you give your presentation. For those types of topics in which information continues to change and pour out, research is ongoing.

Establish a Research Strategy

You don’t want to head into the research process without a plan. Usually, you’ll take one of two approaches. In the first approach, you start the process from scratch. In that case, you want to explore a broad base of materials about your subject. You are seeking to gain foundational knowledge of the subject on which you can build.

On the other hand, you might already know a lot about your presentation topic. In this case, you are researching to find answers to specific research questions. In that case, use specific search terms to lead you right where you need to go. Instead of spending lots of time browsing through lots of materials, target your search with specific search words and research queries.

Assemble Your Choir

Once you have a schedule and budget in place, you’ve evaluated your sources, and established a strategy, it’s time to assemble your choir. A background choir is made up of lots of different voices backing up the lead singer. In a similar fashion, research functions to back you up and make you sound good. When you pull in other voices, other forms of support, it adds to your credibility and strengthens your content.

Here are some of the things you might be looking for:

  • stories
  • examples
  • statistics
  • definitions
  • facts
  • illustrations
  • data
  • metaphors

These types of supporting materials add variety to your presentation, and research shows humans crave variety. Just like a choir needs altos and sopranos and tenors and bases, you need different kinds of research materials to fill out your content.

Research doesn’t have to be boring. But it has to be good. After all, the 10% that the audience sees only works if the 90% is holding it up.

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