We have all heard the saying that a picture paints 1000 words. But does the quality of the picture matter? Of course, it does. There are many tools that make presenting information intuitive. Understanding how to harness those tools for a brilliant end product is the challenge. To present data and make it exciting, we just need the nudge in the right direction.
Whether you are giving a formal presentation for a class, showing your results in a meeting, or printing out a report for your manager—having the proper visuals will go a long way towards a more professional delivery.
I want to share some of the key takeaways that I learned from Cole Knaflic, founder, and CEO of Storytelling with Data. The following five things are techniques you can use the next time you are called on to present data.
Know The Context
The first thing to do when telling a compelling story with data is to truly understand the key components of the story:
- Who is listening to the story
- What is the central message
- How to effectively tell that message
When you can clearly define all of these aspects, you’ll have a solid foundation to put together a great presentation with data.
Choose Your Visual
The next step in the process, after we understand our central message and our audience, is to pick the right visual tool. There are so many different ways to present data. You can use bar charts, line charts, scatter plots, and variations of each. Avoid using pie charts. Cole Knaflic strongly discourages the use of pie charts because they are ultimately hard to read. Think about it this way. Do you know how to easily tell the difference between 33% and 40% just by looking at the slice?
When you are seeking for the right visual to display your data, ask yourself what is the right graph for this situation. More often than not, the answer is to choose the data visualization that is easiest to read and understand.
Clean it Up
You know how when you create a chart using data in Excel, there are all those horizontal gridlines? Well, you don’t need them. What about the chart border—isn’t it nice to have a box outlining your graph? Nope! Instead of leaving the data labels in the key at the bottom of our chart, try labeling the data directly. All of these suggestions make the chart easier and faster to comprehend. Often times the more simple the visual is, the better. Say what needs to be said, and leave it at that. Remember the K.I.S.S. principle (keep it simple, stupid). Here is an example:
Did you notice how much easier it is to understand the second chart? This example from Storytelling with Data shows what can happen when you clean up your visuals.
Focus on What Matters
Elements such as Bold, italics, and color can all be effective if used strategically. The point here is that whether you are presenting numeric data or qualitative data, make the important information stand out. You can push a lot of your visual to the background by making it a shade of gray or black and point out the important differences in bold or in color. When you present data, take the time to think strategically about what matters most—then point it out with your design.
Two Heads are Better Than One
One of the things that I believe will really help you to tell a great story with your data visualization is to ask for advice when creating it. Designing a good visual from data should be an iterative process. Try something, then ask a co-worker or trusted friend to look at it. Then ask more people to look at it. Take notes and go back to the drawing board. Sometimes the greatest improvement ideas are borne from an outside opinion. Ask people if they understand what the visual is saying without having to explain it.
All of these tips used together will help you be a better storyteller when you present data. As you prepare your next slide deck for a client, executive meeting, or your college class, take the time to make your data pretty. Be sure that you put your presentation together with the context of your story in mind—the “who, what, how”. Choose visuals for your data that will be the easiest for your audience to read and understand quickly. Take out anything from your charts or graphs that do not add meaning (i.e. gridlines, data points, etc.). Draw your audience’s attention where you want it by strategically using color, white space, bold, and larger fonts. These and more can make your story great if used well. Finally, ask for advice and keep working on the process until it’s great.
These are my notes and thoughts after reading Cole Knaflics book: Storytelling with Data. I highly recommend reading this book for yourself. There are fantastic insights on how to make your data tell a great story!
Visualization techniques work great when you want to present data and tell a fantastic story. Having enough data, to begin with, however, is another game altogether. We can help with that. If you are looking to gain insights into who your customer is, or maybe you already know but want to expand your reach, our consumer and business marketing lists are for you. Learn more about how our profile data can help you grow your business.
Post by Michael Peterson, Content Marketer at American Name Services