Earlier this year a new record was set for the largest number of cells I have seen copied from an Excel spreadsheet onto a PowerPoint slide: 3,128 cells! I couldn’t make that up even if I tried! This beat the previous records of 2,100 and 1,975. When I share this in my customized workshops I always get the question of why someone would copy that much data onto a slide.
Even if I don’t see a record setting amount of data on a slide I often see overloaded data slides. It is one of the most common complaints about financial, operational, and analytical presentations.
Too many business professionals who analyze and report data truly love what they do. They find the data and results very interesting and make the assumption that everyone else in the organization will find all of the data as interesting as they do. Unfortunately, this assumption is almost never true.
The results of the analysis are important. But what others want to know is what those results mean to their group, division, or team. How will the analysis help the audience members make decisions that will help the organization reach its goals? To answer this question, the audience doesn’t need all the data, they just need the key conclusions and insights.
So how do business professionals start to reduce the volume of data in their presentations? I suggest two strategies. One is to change the perspective they consider when creating the presentation and the other is to have a place to make all the data available to the audience. Let me explain each strategy in a little more detail.
The first strategy is to take the perspective of the audience instead of focusing on the data when creating the presentation. Remember that the conclusions and insights are what the audience wants, so focus on only including those in the presentation. This is hard to do initially because it feels like we are devaluing the data and the analysis. It may feel that way, but without the expertise in analyzing the data, we can’t come up with the insights that the audience is looking for. As I have said in the past, the audience cares more about the quality of the conclusion than they do about the quantity of work that was done. The quality of the insights will be apparent when the analysis has been done well.
The second strategy addresses that thought we have that if we don’t have all the data available to the audience we may look unprofessional. Instead of not providing the data at all, find a different way to make it available to the audience if they do want to see it. Often sending them a link to the data on a shared drive or SharePoint site internally helps us feel that we have not shortchanged the audience.
When you next create a presentation reporting on the results of data analysis, pause a moment and check to see that you are using the audience perspective. Take all of the data you would normally include and instead make it available online so the presentation can focus on the insights the audience really needs.
Dave Paradi has over twenty years of experience delivering customized training workshops to help business professionals improve their presentations. He has written nine books and over 100 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 less than ten people in North America recognized by Microsoft with the Most Valuable Professional Award for his contributions to the Excel and PowerPoint communities. He regularly presents highly rated sessions at national and regional conferences of financial professionals and is NASBA registered to deliver CPE credit courses to CPAs.