Latest posts

 

Showing the components that add up to a total; Slide Makeover #87

When analyzing results, it is important to look at how a total value was achieved. The components that contribute to the total help the audience understand how that total was arrived at. This makeover shows how you can use a Steps to a Total graph created in PowerPoint to visually show this instead of using a spreadsheet from Excel. You can also watch this slide makeover directly on...

When gridlines help on graphs; Issue #387 April 18, 2017

The default column, bar, and line graphs in PowerPoint or Excel have gridlines. When I teach hands-on techniques in my customized workshops I suggest that the gridlines be turned off in almost all cases. The basic principle is to remove any element of a graph that does not add to the understanding of the data. It is rare that the gridlines are useful for the audience. One situation where I do suggest gridlines can be helpful for the audience is when your lines on a line graph have a slight up or down slope. In this case, it can be helpful for the audience to have a known horizontal line to compare the trends to. It can help them understand whether the trend of that data series is increasing or decreasing. Here is an example of where the gridlines help. When you do add gridlines, make sure they do not compete visually with the data series. Use a light muted color for the gridlines so they are visible, but not prominent. You may even make them dotted so they have a visual difference from the lines for the data series. Set the spacing using the major units setting so that there are only five to eight gridlines. The other use for gridlines is to help align graphs side by side that represent related data. Here is an example based on a slide makeover from a recent workshop. By adding gridlines between each row it helps you align the two graphs on the slide. It also helps the audience align the related data for each category. This is especially helpful...

Makeover Monday Challenge April 10 2017

In this Makeover Monday, the request was to see how you can improve a dual-axis chart comparing oil prices and gold prices. This is the original chart from a Forbes article. I see dual-axis charts regularly in my work training corporate professionals how to more effectively present data. The problem with dual-axis charts is that they open up manipulation of the message because the trend can be altered dramatically simply by altering the scale of each data series (I explain in more detail in this article). For this makeover, the data set included Consumer Price Index data for the months after the start of 1983, so I chose to use the time period that included data for all three data series. As the article I linked to above explains, I think a better approach to comparing trends that are measured on different scales is to convert the data to index values with the starting value in each data series being 100. Then the true comparison of the trends can be done because there is only one measurement scale for all data series. For the data series that were supplied, I created this graph that shows how the oil price, gold price, and consumer price have changed over the selected time period (click on the image to enlarge it). Now we can see that there was a fair amount of correlation between oil and gold prices between 1983 and 1999. After the start of 2000, there seems to be little correlation. With a simple visual like the multiple lines, most people can come to this conclusion for themselves. I find...

Minutes/seconds on clock visual; Issue #386 April 4, 2017

One of the messages you may want to communicate in a presentation is a length of time measured in minutes or seconds. It may be the time it takes for a step in a process, it may be the time it takes for processing a request, or the goal for answering customer service calls. While you can state the time using a number on a slide, it can be more impactful to create a visual like this: Whenever you create a visual that represents a clock, whether it represents 60 minutes or 60 seconds, it is important to make it accurate. One of the best ways to ensure accuracy is to use a graph because it allows you to control the size of each segment precisely. The visual above is created by using a pie chart and a donut chart. I created a video that shows you how it was done. (If playing video above does not work, the video is at https://youtu.be/WTch5_NbGRU) The next time you have to communicate a message that involves seconds in a minute or minutes in an hour, consider showing it visually using...

Using published research results; Issue #385 March 21, 2017

One of the most powerful pieces of supporting information you can use to provide proof of a point you are making is to use a visual created as part of research from a government agency, industry group, or private research firm. These qualified, independent sources provide third-party support to the point we want to make and lend credibility to our message. When using this type of visual, it is important to do it properly. It starts with making sure you have permission to use the visual. Respecting the intellectual property of others is important, so make sure to check the copyright and license information related to what you want to use. Sometimes this will be listed on the website if the visual you want to use is online, and sometimes the way you can use the visual will be printed in the document. If the usage rights are not clearly stated, contact the organization for permission. When you have permission to use the research, make sure you cite the source on your slide. Many organizations have required or preferred ways that you should cite usage. This is what Statistics Canada says on their website: On the bottom of your slide, include a citation using the preferred method. Unless otherwise required, I suggest you use a smaller italics font (perhaps 8 or 10 point) and a font color that is not as high contrast as your body text (a medium gray instead of black for example). The idea is to properly cite the research as requested, but not make the citation the focus of the slide. Just because an organization...

Shapes on arrow sequence diagram; Issue #384 March 7, 2017

One of the categories of visuals I discuss in my book Select Effective Visuals is showing a relationship of sequence. If your message is about a sequence of steps in a process or how a vendor and customer contribute to reaching an end goal, this category of visuals will help you show your message to the audience. One of the specific sub-groups in this category is for a sequence that has a single linear path. Often a chevron diagram works well, or a set of shapes with arrows between them will work. The challenge comes when you either have more than a few steps or the descriptive text for each step is long. Often presenters run out of room at the right side of the slide and end up wrapping the linear path around to start again on a second line. This makes it hard for the audience to follow the steps. I often show a slightly different visual that can help keep the linear sequence on one line for these situations. I call it a Shapes on an arrow diagram. Here is one based on a slide makeover in a recent customized workshop: What makes this visual work well is that the direction of the sequence is visualized using an arrow behind the shapes used for each step. This way, the shapes can be larger if you need more text, or closer together if you need more steps. In creating this type of visual, I suggest you make the arrow behind a muted color, like a medium gray. It should be visible, but not take the focus away...

Celebrating 15 years; Issue #383 February 21, 2017

Fifteen years ago I decided to start writing this bi-weekly newsletter. Back then it was more broadly focused on office technology. Over the years as my business has become more focused, so has the newsletter. Today I call it Presentation Insights and most of the topics deal with ways to effectively present data, which is the focus of my customized workshops. I wasn’t always proficient at writing. In fact, in my first MBA Marketing assignment over 25 years ago the professor was generous to give me a passing grade and suggested that I seek immediate help with more effective writing skills. During those two years at the Tuck School, I learned how to write in a quick, focused way because I didn’t have time to create multiple drafts. That experience made me a much better writer. When I started speaking professionally in 1999, I joined the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS). In the next few years I learned from many professional speakers in CAPS and the National Speakers Association (NSA) in the US that writing was important to developing expertise. I didn’t fully understand what they meant at the time, but thought I should consider taking advice coming from successful experts. My first attempt at writing an ebook benefited tremendously from the brutally honest review Dr. Brad McRae gave me. While that first ebook didn’t go anywhere, it was an important step in my writing journey. Having to share new insights every two weeks has turned out to be one of the best ways to deepen my expertise. Many of the topics for these newsletters come from questions that participants...

Don’t Grab and Hope; Issue #382 February 7, 2017

When I deliver a customized workshop, I always start the day spending at least 90 minutes talking about how to structure your message. During this time I don’t mention slides at all, even though I am talking about creating effective PowerPoint presentations. Why should all business presenters spend time on the structure first? Because the most common approach, what I call Grab and Hope, doesn’t work. Every business professional I speak to is very busy these days. Since the economic turmoil of 2008-9, almost every corporate professional is essentially doing two jobs due to downsizing and not adding staff when the business grew. Time is at a premium and people are looking for the fastest way to get things done. When they have to put together a presentation, they default to what they have always done, and what they have seen their colleagues do. They start by grabbing slides from previous presentations, theirs and ones done by colleagues, and throw them into a file. They then start trying to figure out how this will flow coherently. They add some slides when they think it might help or if a topic is missing. They hope it all comes together before they have to present it. Thus the name Grab and Hope. To borrow a line from Dr. Phil, “How’s that working for you?” Most professionals just chuckle when I describe this common approach. They know this is what they do. It isn’t working well, but they don’t know what else to do. The solution is to spend time up front planning the message first. Use the GPS approach I have...

Replace the default legend; Issue #381 January 24, 2017

When a column or bar chart has to be small so that other content can fit on the slide, the default legend can cause a challenge. The color chips used in the legend become so small that it may be hard for the audience to see which color represents which data series. This gets even harder when there are colors that are similar, like the three shades of green I saw used in a legend recently. Not only may the legend be hard to see, but it also takes space away from the graph area, making the graph smaller than it could be. Here is what the default legend looks like on a small column graph. What can you do instead? Create your own legend that combines the color and the series text. Create a small rectangle for each data series. Set the fill color to match the fill color of the columns or bars for that data series. Add text to the rectangle for the data series name. Here’s what this would look like for the graph above. Not only is it easier for the audience to match the data series name with the color, it allows the graph to be larger because part of the graph area is not taken up by the legend. When you have short data series names like the above example, you may find it hard to fit the text inside a small rectangle. It looks like the text should fit, but PowerPoint splits the text up because it says there is not enough room for the text. The issue is with one...

FastCompany.com January 14, 2017

In this FastCompany.com article, Dave's survey on what annoys audiences about bad PowerPoint presentations is used as a starting point for the author giving some tips on using images in...