Data is one of the most powerful presentation tools as your disposal; it’s the most compelling way of adding weight and credibility to your assertions, and makes it easy to communicate with and add meaning to quantitative information.
If you’re going to use data visualisation in your PowerPoint design (and you absolutely should), you’ll want to understand what makes it successful and how to make sure that your numbers stand out for the right reasons.
What is Data Visualisation?
For the uninitiated, data visualisation is simply the art of representing quantitative information using graphic elements.
Doing so turns otherwise obtuse numbers into a clear message that our brains can process quickly and easily.
Why It Matters
In a world of ‘big data’ and analytics, businesses are blessed to have so much numerical information available to inform their decision-making. But as anyone who’s ever tried to draw actionable conclusions from huge spreadsheets can to attest to, this proliferation of data can feel just as much a curse.
Numbers are abstract and complex – they have very little semantic meaning on their own. However, our minds can process visual information at an astounding rate – so creating graphics to represent this data adds context and scale, enabling us to better understand what it means.
Data visualisation allows businesses to extrapolate future trends, identify new opportunities and risks, and decide on areas that require further improvement. But there’s a right way and a wrong way communicate data with your PowerPoint design: auto-generated Excel graphs won’t win you any hearts and minds, unfortunately.
How to Do It
Our presentation designers recommend going beyond the pedestrian line and bar charts when it comes to visualisation – they’re mundane and uninteresting because everyone has seen them so many times before. You don’t need to go completely off-piste, but just small design variations on established formats are enough to make a difference. After all, it’s important to retain a balance between aesthetics and function.
Michelle Borkin and fellow academics from Harvard University and MIT conducted research that adds weight to this thinking: they found that unique and creative presentation of data actually make the material itself easier to recall. According to Dr Borkin et al., ‘common graphs are less memorable than unique visualisation types’ and including ‘attributes like colour [and] a human recognisable object enhance memorability’. To read more of Dr Borkin’s research on what makes data visualisation memorable, go here.
Another key thing to remember when presenting data visually is that you don’t have to include all the numbers in your PowerPoint design – just those that are most relevant to what you’re talking about. Often picking out a few of the most important and displaying them in a visually interesting way on their own slides can prove just as impactful. You can then talk around them at your own pace and reveal more as your progress: the power of a good statistic lies in its delivery.