Friday, September 2, 2011

Charts, Graphs, Nuts & Bolts

Every piece of data tells a story. You just have to figure out how to tell that story.

We are constantly pushing simplicity, brevity, restraint and using slides as supporting imagery, not as the main focus of your topic. One of the most often asked questions from clients and SquarePlanet Workshop
participants is, "I have a lot of data, charts and graphs--what am I supposed to do with this?"

I love fielding this question, because it shows how embedded we are with Microsoft defaults, and how burdened business and education culture has become with the "Insert Text Here" doctrine. Just because PowerPoint can, doesn't mean you should. Remember that.

We are huge proponents of not using a slide presentation as a vessel for data, details and information that needs to be consumed and digested. Nancy Duarte cheekily calls these data-riddled visual boat anchors, "Slideuments." We call them distracting and ugly. Whatever you call them, they aren't necessary.

The fact is, if your audience is looking at your data on a slide, they are not listening to you. Did you catch that the first time? They are NOT LISTENING TO YOU if they are trying to understand and disseminate information on a slide. So how should you show a chart or graph of important information?


Seriously, don't use charts or graphs if you don't absolutely have to.

Every pie chart, bar graph or hunk of data tells a story--you just need to tell it in a way that an audience can grasp in a few short moments, like a highway billboard. Yes, think of slides as billboards you motor past at 65mph, and only get a few seconds to read. If the type is too small, there are too many words on a slide, or a chart or graph needs to be analyzed to be understood, you lost a reader. 6 seconds at the most is all you need to tell that story, like those billboards.

Here's a simple example. The original chart is not even all that complex, but graphs by nature are not simple to digest in the first place. This one tells a simple story, but you need to dig into it to find the meat of it.

The story this graph is telling the reader is that every year, the amount of data stored on the internet roughly doubles--that's really it. So why burden the viewer with unnecessary information, work and effort, and more importantly, why would you want the audience focused on a slide and NOT YOU?

The simple graphic solution is to just visually show that data storage has doubled every year since 2006...

Same information, same story, same message in a completely easy to understand visual that supports what you say. It isn't complicated, and it shouldn't be. Remember, your slides are there to support your spoken word, not to stand alone as a document. If your whole presentation is data, then send out an e-mail with a spreadsheet or text file attached, and don't waste anyone else's time.

If you truly have information that needs to be in the hands of your audience, then literally put it in their hands. By that I mean, put it on paper in a nicely formatted (and on brand--corporate letterhead works nicely) printed piece and hand it to your audience AFTER your presentation is over. Let the audience know that you have this for them, and you that you won't shower them in details and data right now, but if they want to, they can look through the nuts & bolt facts and figures on their own time. They will appreciate this gesture and they will keep their focus on you, instead of reading some document that isn't as important as your message.

Remember, presentations are about your audience, not about YOU. Make their lives easier and they will reward you with their attention. Once you have their minds, their hearts will follow.


1 comment:

  1. What can I tell you, I agree 100%!!!!

    Nicely done Doug.