Making table criteria explicit; Issue #356 February 2, 2016

Tables are a great way to help your audience understand a comparison between two or more options. The challenge is to make sure that the table makes the comparison clear. Just adding a table to a slide is not enough. Here is a slide submitted by a participant in a recent customized workshop.


The problem is that this table does not explicitly identify the criteria being used to compare the two options. The criteria are embedded in the text used to describe each option, or not included at all. This forces the audience to figure out the criteria, and how each option is being evaluated on each item. As I have said before, when you make the audience do the work to figure out your message, it is unlikely they will do the work or come to the conclusion you want.

Whenever you use a table to show a comparison, make sure that the first row or the first column contain a list of criteria that you have used to evaluate each option. By making the criteria explicit, the audience can quickly see how the options stack up against each other on the dimensions that are important for this decision. You will get better understanding from the audience and a quicker decision.

So how can we fix the table shown above? The approach is similar for any table where the criteria are embedded in the text. Break out the criteria so you can create a column or row of the different dimensions that are important in the comparison. I usually start by looking for words or phrases that are repeated in the text as one way to identify the appropriate criteria. If you are knowledgeable about the topic, you can also draw on your experience evaluating these types of options.

In the situation above, I am somewhat familiar with storage systems and technology in general. That, combined with some similar terms or language, helped me to create this slide instead.


Now the audience can clearly see the important criteria they need for comparing the two options and making the decision to move this project forward to the current year instead of waiting until next year.

When you create tables, make sure the audience can easily understand the comparison by using the first row or column to identify the criteria you used. You will get quicker decisions because your recommendation will be easier to understand and agree with.

By Dave Paradi

Dave Paradi has over twenty-two years of experience delivering customized training workshops to help business professionals improve their presentations. He has written ten books and over 600 articles on the topic of effective presentations and his ideas have appeared in publications around the world. His focus is on helping corporate professionals visually communicate the messages in their data so they don't overwhelm and confuse executives. Dave is one of fewer than ten people in North America recognized by Microsoft with the Most Valuable Professional Award for his contributions to the Excel, PowerPoint, and Teams communities. His articles and videos on virtual presenting have been viewed over 4.8 million times and liked over 17,000 times on YouTube.