Stop doing charts in Excel. At least don’t use the default options that give you 3D bar charts with dull colors and gray background. The fix? Go to Juice Analytics website and download their free add-on to Excel that cleans up charts for a professional look.
Ok, now that we have a tool to fix those ugly Excel charts, let’s see what we can do about the main goal of your chart: The message.
How to Ensure Your Message is Clear
Before creating a chart showing the latest web analytics, or the trends in email clickthrough rates explaining the recent results in webinar registrations, think about what exactly you are trying to say. Sounds simple but often times I see charts presented just because they ‘look nice’ or because they show data. Yeah, you’ve seen them too, right? After you stared them for two minutes you are still wondering “What the heck is he trying to say with this chart?”.
Here’s five simple rules I use when presenting data on a chart format:
1. What is the summary?
As I do my analysis, I think about what all the data means. Are we losing customers? Was the last trade show really effective? Did we generate quality leads? Then, I think about what is the summary of all the analysis and the conclusion. This is often the most important piece of information of the whole presentation.
2. What is the story?
Saying “we didn’t reach our sales goals” is OK, but after the initial shock, people will wonder exactly what happened. So the next best thing is to think about the story. More specifically, what story are the numbers telling you? You will find that some data points when put next to other data points will give you a clear explanation of what happened. If you need a few different charts to present it, that’s OK. They will become your storyline.
3. What can I remove?
Less is more, especially when presenting data and charts. Think about what you can remove from the chart that might be distracting or that is not adding to the overall story. It could be a data point, could be labels, legend, or colors.
4.What needs explanation?
Some charts are clear and have all the information necessary, while others only glimpse into a certain question or answer. You may have to add supporting information either before or after the chart. Don’t assume everyone will ‘get it’ when looking at it. Always go back to step 3 and ask yourself if the additional info is really necessary.
5. What action needs to happen?
If you are presenting something, you need something to happen. Sure, you may just be sharing information but still you have a goal with this information sharing and why would you present something if nothing will happen as a result? The story your slides are telling and your charts are emphasizing should lead to a certain climax that will ask for action or actions to be taken. That’s the “so what” question people often ask themselves after a presentation. Don’t let anything up to imagination, add to the presentation what the audience needs to do or what needs to happen based on the information just presented.
For some nice tips about how to prepare before you give a presentation, SlideMagnet has some pretty good advicethat drives home the key points while giving you some good laughs.
Charts That Tell a Story
Here is a compilation of great articles and sites I’ve read in the past that really helped me understand the importance of paying attention to data presentation and how to choose the right chart based on your data and message.
- “The information cannot speak for itself”, Stephen Few, Intelligent Enterprise Magazine
- “Common mistakes in data presentation”, Stephen Few, Intelligent Enterprise Magazine
- “Data presentation: Tapping the power of visual perception”, Stephen Few, Intelligent Enterprise Magazine
- “Eenie, Meenie, Minie, Moe: Selecting the Right Graph for Your Message”, Stephen Few, Intelligent Enterprise Magazine
- “Elegance through simplicity”, Stephen Few, Intelligent Enterprise Magazine
- “ Data visualization modern approaches”, Smashing Magazine
- “Choosing a good chart”, Andrew Abela, Extreme Presentation Blog
- Information Aesthetics website
- Periodic table visualization methods
- Wall Stats Website
- “Data Visualization Is Reinventing Online Storytelling”, Garrick Schmitt, Adage Online
Images, Cliparts, and Stuff
Although another blog post should cover this in more detail, if you are using images (and you should) in your slides, make sure you get good ones. Cliff Atkinson has some great suggestions of places to get images from and the PresentationZen blog has a recent post that will help those trying to present technical information.
I hope the resources I listed will help you create better charts and presentations. If you know of other resources, please share!