Data can drive your presentation, or derail it. Merging a lot of data and analytics with your message can be a challenge, because telling the story of data isn’t just about slapping a graph into a slide deck. Data doesn’t speak for itself. That’s where storytelling and presentation design come in.
Structure a Story
To derive impact from data, you want to tell a story that sticks with people and humanizes the content. If it’s delivered like a report, you might as well give them a written handout of your quarterly goals. If you give them a familiar narrative structure, the data will have real meaning. Try using a speech structure. It should have an introduction, supporting points, and a conclusion, all working in tandem with your tables and graphs to give the data impact.
For example: The bar graph below tells a muddled story. It presents too many columns, making it difficult to derive meaning. We’re not sure what this says about toothbrush usage over the span of a century (This is made up data, by the way. The types of toothbrushes, however, are legit). By restructuring the data into a line graph, a much clearer story about toothbrush usage emerges.
Design the Data Simply
Lead your audience to the most important data by reducing and simplifying non-essential information. Choose your charts carefully, because each type will give a different perception. For instance, bar graphs are great for comparison; line graphs illustrate trends over a period of time; stacked bar graphs let you compare multiple variables at once.
Look at the table below. The data presentation is overly complicated and visually drab. In contrast, the doughnut chart approach simplifies the story without your audience having to work to understand the data.
A good presentation specialist can help with this level of data visualization work, but here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Arrange the data in a way that allows the audience to identify patterns. For instance, let them read down a column instead of across a row. It’s easier to see a numeric progression.
- Design the data to support your key takeaways. If you want to emphasize one story in a data set, highlight that row; draw their eyes to it. If the data set is similar, use a gradient of colors to emphasize a change.
- Use titles; let people know what the graph represents. This is also useful if they’re able to download or take the slide deck with them for later reference.
Aesthetics Are Important
Use consistent visuals, color, or shading to bring certain data you want to the forefront while the rest retreats. A presentation’s aesthetics should match the simplicity of the data design; they’re two sides of the same coin.
Take the bar graph below. Sure, you get the point: everybody loves green, and red is a close second. But you don’t get the impact quite like you do in the pictograph. It tells you what you need to know, without spelling it out.
We’re prone to over-explaining and over-complicating to get our point across. A good presentation specialist will help curb that enthusiasm in favor of presenting complex data in a clear, concise, and visually interesting manner.
Want to keep your audience engaged? Make sure your data is designed to tell the story you want told.