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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....

Alternative to Excel conditional formatting; Issue #389 May 16, 2017

Excel has a great feature called conditional formatting that can save you time in making the results of analysis more visual. In particular, Excel can automatically add an up or down triangle to cells depending on their value. This makes reporting on the difference between a current and previous period value more visual. Here is an example: There are a couple of issues with conditional formatting that can make it problematic for presentations. First, you will notice that the down triangle is beside a negative number. The triangle direction is set based on whether the difference is above or below zero. The problem is that a down triangle with a negative number may be interpreted as a double negative by some audience members. The second issue is that when you copy these cells from Excel to PowerPoint, the conditional formatting will only show up if you copy the cells as a picture. If you copy the cells using the default copy and paste so that you can format the cells or edit them in PowerPoint, you just get the values, the up or down triangles are not copied. There is an alternative that allows you to have the indicator characters and edit or format the cells in PowerPoint. You can create cells in Excel that contain the characters and values you need in PowerPoint. This technique relies on knowing what font contains the triangles and which character in a regular font will translate to the triangles when you switch the font. The Wingdings3 font contains the up and down pointing triangles. In a regular font, the up triangle is...

Comparing to two standards; Issue #388 May 2, 2017

In my workshops, one of the popular visuals that I show is a dashed line on a column graph because it allows the audience to see the measured values against a comparison value. A common example would be comparing performance in five regions against the company goal. In a recent workshop an example came up where they needed to compare each measured value against two standards. They wanted to compare the value to the goal and to the best in class in the industry. Here is the table that we started with. In this situation, I created the following visual to compare each measure to the two comparison standards. The visual above is a single column with two dashed lines, ones to the left and one to the right. It is created as a three series graph in Excel or PowerPoint with three categories. Here is the data table for the graph. The first series is for Measure A and only has a value in the second category. The second series is for the comparison that will be to the left of the column. By having values in a blank category to the left and the category for the column, the dashed line extends from the left to the middle of the column. The third series is for the comparison to the best in class that will be to right of the column. When you have to compare a value to two standards, consider a column graph with multiple comparison lines instead of a...

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...