What is your through-line?

What is your narrative, your argument?

Activating the Through-Line

Without a through-line, research presentations are weak and ineffectual. They often land ignored in the proverbial filing cabinet. With a carefully thought-out through-line, clients are able to focus on the right things and eager to take immediate action as recommended in the report.

A through-line is the invisible thread that binds a story together. Every statistical tidbit and personal story in a research report must point back to the through-line, the connective tissue holding them all together in one cohesive story.

A clear through-line prevents the storyteller from digressing during a presentation and, in those cases where tangents are inexplicably followed, help the storyteller bring it all back home.

A great research presentation includes only those pieces of content, graphs, charts, images, bullet points, paragraphs, video, and audio that serve the through-line. 

To build a good through-line, focus on the decision the client has to make. Once the through-line is established, you can then use the “Therefore Test” to be certain the content that is being including is truly vital.

The ‘therefore test’ helps the storyteller ensure the evidence builds towards the goal. First, identify the key point. Then, say ‘therefore.’ Finally, complete the thought with the through-line. For example:

  1. The Through-Line: The client should create a smoother online purchase journey that mirrors the in-store experience.
  2. The Research Finding: Customers find the website difficult to navigate and prefer to shop in person at the store.
  3. The Therefore Test: Customers find the website is difficult to navigate and prefer to shop in person at the store THEREFORE the client should create a smoother online purchase journey that mirrors the in-store experience.

Preparing the Audience for the Through-Line

Research presenters often approach an audience as a set of empty buckets waiting to be filled with fascinating information and eye-opening insights. But that’s not how people work. People come to the table with their buckets half-full – at least! People already believe something. They have accumulated facts and figures, and consciously or unconsciously made inferences and judgements. Persuading people to accept your through-line often requires demolition before construction.

Consider all of the times you asked a client about their preconceived notions. Or more specifically, about their a priori hypotheses. Presenters ask these questions in order to identify the preconceived hypotheses that must be proven or disproven before actions can be taken. It is like construction: you have to clear the area (and in some cases, do a little demolition) before you can build on a solid foundation.

Good research presenters do this by developing a shared goal with the audience. For example, they use phrases like:

  • We can all agree that [BUSINESS GOAL] is important but [BUSINESS PROBLEM] has to be resolved. To do this, we have to understand [INSERT TOPIC] to achieve our goal. Let’s spend some time right now trying to get this essential understanding.
  • We can all agree that growing our online commerce business is important but there are many frustrated consumers who have turned elsewhere and who need to come back before we can achieve our goal. Let’s take time right now to get an essential understanding of this frustrated audience.

Returning to the Through-Line

Inevitably, a presentation will veer off course with interesting stories leading to tangents of personal experiences and research results from other projects or clients. A great story-teller can bring the audience back to the through-line with minimal disruption and great effect. Some techniques that work well include:

  • Use your body: Cross the room, approach the screen, or take another large action that brings attention back to you and your words, and subsequently back to the through-line.
  • Do something unexpected: Change the topic completely with an unusual story that relates back into the through-line.
  • Use metaphors: For a QSR client, invite people to “travel with me inside the hamburger to the meat of the research”
  • Find your swagger: Just as lack of confidence can cause people to pull out their cell phones or chat with their neighbours, confidence can make people sit up and lean in. Recognize that you know your material, you know the research, you know your audience. Show that confidence in your self-presentation.

Are you ready to be at your best in future market research presentations? Start with a great through-line and you’ll be on your way!


Ready to learn more? See how we used our Research Decision Wheel to help Sport Chek identify insight needs and come up with a winning strategy. Or, learn how we helped our health and beauty client identify key target groups, determine product positioning, and predict the size of the potential audience.