Issue #108 May 2, 2006

PowerPoint Tip – Breaking down complex diagrams

In quite a number of presentations, especially ones involving steps or processes, slides full of text could be replaced with diagrams that visually show a flow or relationship. Some situations are commonly seen as diagrams, for example an organization chart has become the standard for showing organizational reporting relationships instead of listing names on a slide. And diagrams do a good job of helping your audience understand a flow, process or relationship between items or concepts. The challenge comes when you have a complex situation and the diagram is quite involved. One example may be when you are trying to show the flow of a call in a call centre. A decision tree diagram is a great way to show the decisions and options that an agent will have to consider when dealing with each type of call. But you can see how this diagram could get massive very quickly. If you displayed the large diagram on a slide, you would have to shrink it so small that no one in your audience would be able to follow your explanation because they wouldn’t be able to clearly see what the diagram shows. This also leads to presenters using a laser pointer to try to point out parts of a diagram, which is never effective. I suggest you use what I call a “break down and zoom in” technique. In this technique, you first show the entire diagram but explain that you are going to break it into sections in order to explain it properly. It is important to first give your audience the context or else they won’t know where you are going; it is like giving them a map to the diagram and your explanation. Then you can display a close up view of only the first section, which is now much more readable and clear to your audience. Then you go back to the overall diagram to show context. It is important to always go back to the overall diagram so that your audience knows where you have been and where you are headed next. This enables them to keep things in order in their mind. Next you move to the close up view of the second section. Once explained you go back to the overall diagram for context and alternate between detailed view and overall diagram until you are done, finishing with the overall diagram to pull it all together. This “break down and zoom in” technique will help you make those large complex diagrams understandable and will increase your audience’s understanding of your message.