Remember how in math class you couldn’t get credit for the right answer unless you showed your work? Well, presentations containing data operate on a similar principle. Except instead of a pencil and paper, you have a human audience waiting to observe your insights. It’s your job to help this audience understand the significance of the material at hand.
Presenters have a limited amount of time to convey important information to viewers. Today’s professional landscape is fast-paced, plus there’s simply a limit on the human attention span. Figuring out how to effectively integrate data into your presentation is instrumental in establishing credibility and getting your point across quickly. Here are four tips for doing so.
Choose the Right Chart
The first challenge you face is choosing the right kind of data visualization model to represent the information you wish to convey. There are more than a dozen popular chart types to consider.
Ultimately, presenters need to examine their end goal: comparing values, demonstrating the composition of something, showing distribution, analyzing performance trends or relating multiple sets of data. Once you know your goal, you can work backwards to determine which model is the best fit.
The most common side effect of choosing the wrong chart is audience confusion. Take time to explore the possibilities before you settle on the version that makes it into your presentation.
Represent Data Accurately
Make sure your data slides are accurate. For example, the American Psychological Association notes “it’s easy to convey the wrong message simply by altering the range of the y-axis” to make a difference appear larger than it really is. Misrepresenting data in this way is an ethical issue. Since audiences have a short amount of time in which to interpret your data, it should be crystal clear at a glance—no ambiguity, shortcuts or significant omissions.
Avoid the trap of crafting a data presentation that makes sense to you as the presenter, but not to your audience. Speakers have the advantage of working with the data ahead of time to understand it inside and out; audiences experience it live for the first time.
As Harvard Business Review writes, “Take the time to spell out the story you see in the data so that it’s clear to someone who hasn’t been poring over that dataset for the past six weeks.”
The best way to do so is by writing conclusions in clear, natural language. Before you move onto the next slide or insight, make sure you’ve very clearly stated the takeaway from your previous data set. You can even aggregate the key insights from the entire presentation once again at the end. While it may feel like overkill to you, your audience will appreciate the repetition.
Use Color Strategically
Every presentation is a story. Viewers look for context clues along the way, scanning each new slide or visual aid for important takeaways. This is why effective presentations denote the importance of certain insights with color.
Busy slides featuring many contrasting colors can be quite confusing for viewers to absorb, and understandably so. They may even miss out on key information as their eyes dart around, desperately trying to pull the most vital insights from the clutter.
A better strategy is attracting eyes to the most essential portions of your data by using an action color. Contrasting a bright action color with more muted gray and neutral tones will help grab attention in the right way. This helps presenters get everyone on the same page without having to verbally guide users through complicated data visualizations.
Next time you’re integrating data into a presentation, consider these four tips for doing so effectively.