Almost every professional comes across the need to create a chart to communicate data in a presentation. I have seen some great charts presented, but unfortunately many more awful charts.
Is this because the presenter is careless or is it because the presenter doesn’t know their data as well as they should? Well, it’s almost never either of these reasons. Typically it’s because that’s the easiest chart they could create with their software program (e.g. Microsoft Excel) or they overuse the seemingly endless the number of chart features available to them.
Here’s a typical awful chart for a presentation.
Here are 5 tips for how to improve this chart for your audience.
- Remove noise
Sure, there are many funky backgrounds (and colours) that you can paint your chart area with. But besides demonstrating your flair for art, they serve no purpose, and will only distract your audience. Remove and stick to no background.
- Keep text straight
Did you have to tilt your head to read the names? Annoying isn’t it. Simple solution #1 – expand your chart to make enough room to display your labels horizontally. Display legends underneath the chart rather than on the right (and there is no need for a legend if you only have one data series on show!). Or if there is simply not enough room, simple solution #2 – put your axis with the longest text labels on the vertical axis. By doing so, you are changing your chart type from a Column chart (rectangles running up the page) to a Bar chart (rectangles running along the page).
- Make numbers easy
It can take a second or two to figure out what the number 90000000 is. Using thousand seperators would make it easier – 90,000,000, but do you really need all those zeroes on your chart? How about 90 million? The word million can easily be placed in a title, leaving just the number 90 for your audience to read.
- Show the trend clearly
The above chart is sorted with names in alphabetic order. If you’re showing something sequential, like tweets per day over a period of a week, then ordering your data chronologically makes the most sense. In the absence of any dominant sort pattern your data should be ordered and presented in descending order to put the most significant data first. In this example, sorted from most number of followers to least. By doing so, you minimise the amount of time your audience need to sweep their eyes left and right and back again to interpret your data.
- Tell what you’re showing…exactly
Twitter Followers doesn’t really adequately explain the data in your chart. Don’t force your audience to examine your chart to understand the data you are attempting to show. That’s what chart titles are for. If you have a key message (like “Tweets are on the decline”) consider placing this in your title.
So lets take a look at the above chart, after a makeover using these 5 basic tips.
Charts when designed well explain data powerfully, and the best presenters use them to reinforce their messages with conviction. The best charts take just a few seconds for the audience to get to the áha’ moment. And a chart is often perceived to be more credible than the same data just written as a set of bullet points. So don’t think twice about whether to show a chart or not. Think twice about what’s the best chart design to show.
If you have any questions about the use of charts for a presentation, feel free to reach out to me with a comment or contact me