Latest posts

 

Focus by using an All Others category; Issue #396 August 22, 2017

In my ongoing survey of what annoys audience members about PowerPoint, I expect that I will hear once again that information overload is a big issue. It is not just the slides that are filled with paragraphs of text or the spreadsheets copied onto slides. Visuals can also overload the audience and leave them confused. One of the examples I see often is a graph that has a lot of columns or bars. In a recent workshop I had an example of a column graph with 72 columns! With so much to look at no wonder the audience couldn’t figure it out. Why does this happen and what can we do about it? I think graph overload happens for the same reason that number overload happens when a spreadsheet is copied on a slide: we have all the data, so why not include it all for the audience. The mistake is thinking that the audience wants to see all the data. What they want is to understand the key messages from your analysis so they can make the decisions that are needed. If you think the audience may want to see all the data, make it available outside the presentation. In my latest book GPS for Presentations, I suggest making it available before the presentation in a pre-read document, or after the presentation by sending a link to a file on SharePoint or a network drive. What I suggest you do in the presentation is use an All Others category to consolidate all the data that is not important to the point. Here is a graph that illustrates visual...

Proportion visual using characters; Issue #395 August 8, 2017

The most common visuals used when showing one segment compared to the whole are a pie graph or donut graph. Everyone is familiar with them and they work well. Another visual you can consider when the message is about individual people or objects is a group of items or ISOTYPE style visual. Here is an example from a past customized workshop. In this type of proportion visual, shapes or icons are used to represent the focus segment and the whole. A common way to create this visual if you are using squares is to use a table. In the example above, the borders are set to white and the shading color creates the distinction between the focus group and the whole. You can also create this type of visual using characters in a text box. This can allow you to easily include a proportion visual in a block of text or allow you to build a visual one group at a time through animation (which tables do not allow). This type of visual requires using characters that are inserted using the Insert – Symbol method for inserting special characters. The Wingdings font contains some characters that can be helpful. Character code 108 is a filled circle and code 110 is a filled square. Insert as many characters as you need to show the whole amount (I usually insert one, then copy and paste to create the rest). Since these are characters, you can change the font color to distinguish the two parts. You can use these characters to create this type of visual showing 24% using 12 colored squares...

Will replacing presentations with interactive visual dashboards help executives make decisions?

Recently I have seen more emphasis on creating interactive visual dashboards for executives in products such as Tableau and Power BI. These dashboards allow executives to visually play with graphs based on underlying data. They can apply filters for time periods, products, geographic regions, and many other dimensions. They can position their cursor on a specific spot on the visual and the details of that point pop up on the screen. Some suggest that presentations can be replaced by these dashboards. These dashboards look cool and fancy, but I wonder whether the executives they are built for are really getting what they need. I can see the value in an analyst using some of these approaches to be able to visually see patterns or anomalies in data which leads to deeper investigation and hopefully insights. My concern is that an executive has a different role, one that may not be helped by these displays of information. The role of an executive is to make difficult decisions that move the organization forward on the goals it has set. The executive relies on the experts in each area to perform analysis that will discover key insights into the current performance of the organization. This leads to suggestions of what actions can be taken to improve the key metrics. The role of the analyst is to perform the analysis and determine the recommended actions. The executive doesn’t have the time or the detailed knowledge to do the analysis. Most of the dashboards I see are providing measurement and performance results that answer the questions, “What happened?” and “How did the results compare...

Executive Summary slide; Issue #394 July 25, 2017

In a couple of recent customized workshops I was asked about Executive Summary slides. The participants had been asked by their boss to include a summary slide at the start of the presentation, and wondered what I thought of that idea. An Executive Summary comes from written reports, where busy executives can get the highlights of the report by just reading this first part of the document. It reminds me of a CFO boss I had who told me that he would never read more than one page of my report, so make it only a single page. He wanted to know the key information, not all the details. This idea fits very well with what I say in my workshops and in my latest book GPS for Presentations. Figure out the key messages and put the rest of the detail in hidden backup slides or in supplementary files. The Executive Summary is just a different way of displaying these key messages. At the start of each presentation, I suggest you share an agenda that is the high level outline of what you will cover. This helps the audience know where the journey will take them. It often reduces their anxiety because they find out that you will be addressing their key concerns about the topic. I see an Executive Summary like a slightly more detailed version of the agenda. Here’s a slide based on an Executive Summary for a makeover in a recent workshop. The Executive Summary doesn’t contain all of the details. It isn’t just cramming all the details on a slide in a tiny font. It...

Showing a trend and comparing current value to last Q and last Y; Slide Makeover #88

Analyzing performance requires looking at the current value in context. The context often includes the trend in past values and the comparison to the last value and the value for the same period in the previous year. . This makeover shows how you can use a line graph instead of a column graph to show both the trend and comparisons. You can also watch this slide makeover directly on...

Replace stacked column graphs; Issue #393 July 11, 2017

I recently had a good discussion in the comments of a blog post by research data viz specialist Ann K Emery (the blog post and discussion are here). It led me to write this article explaining why I think stacked column graphs do not serve your audience very well and what you can do instead. A stacked column graph is a common visual used to compare a breakdown of values into categories. Here is an example based on a recent slide makeover for a workshop client. The graph shows the breakdown in terms of level of engagement within three customer categories. What key messages should the audience focus on? Is it the darker segments in the middle, which are hard to compare because they don’t line up with each other? Actually, the key messages are that Category C is significantly more likely to be highly engaged and less likely to be inactive. This illustrates the key problems with stacked column graphs. First, it is hard to compare segments that don’t have a common baseline, and second, there is often more data shown than needed to communicate the key message. I think there are two options to consider that visually show this data better than a stacked column graph. First, consider a small multiples graph where each segment has its own baseline, so the comparison of values in each segment is much easier. Here is what this would look like for the above graph. Notice how I also used the choice of colors to focus the audience on the two levels of engagement that are important for the messages. How...

GPS for Presentations: A structured approach to planning presentations with a clear message and focused content

Most presenters don’t use a structured approach to planning their presentations. They start by grabbing slides from presentations they and their colleagues have done in the past. They try to organize these slides into a coherent message and struggle to do so. The result is often an overload of information that doesn’t flow well. The audience leaves overwhelmed and confused. Instead, use a structured approach similar to the way a GPS system plans a trip. When I think of a presentation, I think of it as taking the audience on a journey. Today, almost everyone has used a GPS to help plan and take a trip. Whether it is a dedicated GPS device, one built into a vehicle, or an app on our smartphone, these systems give us a detailed plan for travelling between a starting location and our destination. I started seeing this analogy apply to the planning of a presentation a few years ago. I started sharing parts of the idea with audiences and it resonated so well that I developed it further into a complete approach that can be used by any business professional to plan their presentation. I redefined the acronym as follows: G – Goal A GPS starts by asking you the destination you want to reach. In our presentations, the destination is the goal of the presentation. P – Present Situation The next step in using a GPS is for it to determine your current location. In a presentation, this is determining the present situation the audience and the presenter find themselves in. S – Steps Once the GPS has your current location...

Lessons for presenters from MOD Pizza; Issue #392 June 27, 2017

In February when my wife and I were on vacation in Tucson, AZ, someone recommended that we check out a restaurant nearby called MOD Pizza. Whenever you can get a recommendation from a local person, it usually works out well. This was no exception. We ended up going twice while we were in the area. I’ve since visited other locations in the US and enjoyed it each time. It occurred to me that as presenters we can learn three lessons from how MOD works. If you have never been to a MOD Pizza, let me explain the experience. MOD offers a pizza or salad option that allows you to add as many toppings as you would like for the same price. You select whether you want a pizza or salad and they ask you a few questions such as whether it is to eat in or to go, the basic sauce option for a pizza, and your name. This is written on a customized sheet that has boxes for these key pieces of information. You then select your toppings, they put the pizza in the oven and a few minutes later you are enjoying a customized pizza or salad made exactly the way you want it. After a recent visit I thought of three lessons presenters can take from the MOD experience. Lesson #1: Each audience is different and has different needs At MOD, no two pizzas or salads are exactly the same. Every person gets to choose their own base and toppings. When presenting, it is important that we consider every audience as different, with different needs for that presentation....

Group text in shapes instead of bullets; Issue #391 June 13, 2017

In the past I have written about why I think text slides play an important role in business presentations and will continue to do so (see this article for more of my thoughts on this issue). If your text is grouped into related areas, take the opportunity to present the text more visually on the slide. I first discussed this idea a couple of years ago when I wrote about some ideas for visualizing text by presentation designer Johanna Rehnvall in newsletters here and here. When I show these types of makeovers in my customized workshops people always appreciate them because it gives ways to break up the typical bullet point formatted slides. Here is a typical heading and bullet point slide based on a makeover from a recent session: All of the information is accurate, but it doesn’t have any visual appeal. Here is the slide after applying the idea of grouping text into shapes to show how it is organized. The groups here are oriented horizontally. You can also orient them vertically as in this example. When I am considering whether to orient a slide with text in shapes horizontally or vertically, here is what I think about. If the text is grouped by related topic, I will usually choose a horizontal orientation. This works especially well when you will have multiple slides that show the same groupings for different projects, departments, etc., as in the first example above. If the message is one where the groups are being compared or contrasted, then I will usually choose a vertical arrangement, as in the second example. This could...

Design advice corporate presenters can ignore; Issue #390 May 30, 2017

I am friends with many professional presentation designers. They do great work. If you want to hire a presentation designer, check out the Presentation Guild at www.PresentationGuild.org. These professionals understand the needs of corporate presenters. Why do I recommend these professionals and not just any designer? Because there is advice from some designers that you should ignore if you are a corporate presenter. All of the advice you should ignore relates to some designers not understanding the requirement of corporate presenters using a mandated corporate template. The first piece of advice you can ignore is to not have your corporate logo on each slide. They will tell you that it isn’t needed and you should remove it. Logo usage is dictated by the corporate branding group. It is important to maintain your corporate presence internally and externally. If your branding or marketing group has decided that the logo should be on every slide, leave it there. Trust the judgement of your branding and marketing professionals. The next piece of advice you can ignore is to replace the font in the corporate template with a downloaded font that matches the “mood” of your presentation. Not only is this another example of ignoring the decisions of the branding group, but it can cause huge problems for others. If you use a downloaded font and others view the presentation, their system will substitute a system font, which may make all the text unreadable. If a colleague wants to use any of your slides or your slides are part of a group presentation, it will cause a problem that will waste time for others....