The dos & don'ts of visualizing data through charts

Reading time 2 minutes

The ability to make figures visual is the mark of a good presentation. It involves providing a fast overview, displaying complex content, and ensuring listeners follow you on the journey to important decisions.

When working with charts, the same principle as when designing slides generally applies:

  • Step 1: Precisely define the essence of your message to your audience
  • Step 2: Remove anything that does not serve this message
  • Step 3: Add anything that illustrates and conveys your message  

Here are the dos & don’ts in an overview.

Step 1:

Do:

  • Write your core message in one sentence on your slide. This is actually the most difficult part of creating your slides.
  • Example: “First decline in sales of product XY in 2017”

Don't:

  • Simply transfer your data from Excel or a database export to PowerPoint.
  • Use headlines such as: “Product XY sales development in 2017”. This is not a statement or message.

You can only create effective visualizations using clear statements and content which adds value.

Step 2:

Do:

  • Reduce all content in your chart to this statement
  • Rid the data or axis labels of anything irrelevant to the message or redundant
  • Ensure a clear, well-organized look

Don't:

  • Use any visual elements that cause distraction. Make a conscious decision to reduce the use of color, 3D elements, shading, decorative elements or background images
  • Use multiple messages
  • Include vast seas of numbers

Less is definitely more. Reduction makes for easier orientation.

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Step 3:

Do:

  • Visually highlight your core message, as the only colored element
  • Immediately interpret your presented facts for your audience

Don't:

  • Leave your audience to try and get their bearings
  • Leave your audience alone with too much to read
  • Leave your audience to interpret things for themselves

Your audience expects messages, not just data and facts.

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