I’m asking evaluators and non-evaluators to think about some of the most effective conference presentations they’ve seen as part of the American Evaluation Association’s new Potent Presentations Initiative (P2i).

When talking about the ingredients for great presentations, Herb Baum commented, “Do not present results unless they are relevant to the point. At evaluation conferences, I am tired of hearing results demonstrating the effectiveness of a given program. I much prefer hearing why it was challenging to measure the effectiveness of the program and what was done to overcome those challenges.” You can read Herb’s full post here.

That got me thinking… Is it ever acceptable to share the results of your evaluation study when you’re presenting to other evaluators? Under what circumstances? Here’s my guidance so far. If you really, really, really want to share the results of your evaluation:

  • Please share why your results are interesting, either to you personally, or for the program staff, or to the larger evaluation field. An evaluator once told me, “Well, it’s not that interesting. It’s just my results.” If you’re not enthusiastic about your own evaluation project, then it’s harder for your audience to feel excited about your presentation. Or, if your results aren’t interesting, don’t share them. Instead, focus on your evaluation approach. This isn’t a research conference.
  • Show me, don’t tell me, why your results are one-of-a-kind. Use your body language. Use your voice. Tell a story. Enthusiasm for data is inspiring.
  • Explain why you chose your method – but in just a couple sentences. Was there something unique about your project? Did you encounter obstacles during the evaluation that influenced your choice of method? Did you use Plan B, Plan C, or Plan D when choosing your methods?
  • What are you doing next in your analysis? One of my favorite results-filled presentations was by Stacy Merola and Allan Porowski. In their “spare” time (i.e. evenings and weekends), they’re mining a public dataset to learn about predictors of high school dropout. Their enthusiasm for the next steps in their research is contagious, and they always ask their audience for ideas about the analysis. When you’re in the audience, you feel excited to contribute to a just-for-fun, solely-for-learning project.
  • What did you learn from this project? Be specific. This is why I came to the conference. This is why I came to your session. “We learned that getting informed consent is important” isn’t so helpful. Instead, “Make sure you use an ‘opt-out’ rather than ‘opt-in’ approach and collect consent forms in September when the rest of the forms requiring parental signatures are being sent home” is much more useful. (Thanks to Jen Hamilton for this great advice about educational evaluations.) Give me something relevant and memorable that I can apply to my own work.
  • What challenges did you encounter? What would you do differently next time? Share an anecdote. Make us laugh. We’ve all run into unexpected challenges, and when you’re in the audience, it’s a relief to hear that you’re not alone.
  • How are these results similar/different to other evaluation projects you’ve worked on? I don’t need a literature review. I don’t need citations to other studies. Instead, I’m looking for your opinions and perspectives. What’s the take-away message for other evaluators?

What else would you add to this list? What are some of the best data-filled presentations you’ve seen? Who gave those presentations? What made them so effective?

— Ann Emery