Lesson 5 – Creating Effective Graphs that Audiences can Understand

A common message that we need to communicate is numeric data.  Whether it is financial results, operational data or measurements of any kind, instead of placing a table of numbers on your slide, a graph is usually a better approach.  In today’s lesson I want to share some tips on making a graph more effective using the ideas in the KWICK method that I shared in the last lesson.

Show only the data you need to
I know that the spreadsheet has 40 numbers in it, but if you are only comparing two items over five time periods, only include the ten data points that are required.    This fits with the Key Point step in the KWICK process.  The data on the graph should be consistent with the headline of the slide.   If you prefer to create graphs in PowerPoint instead of Excel (as I do), you can copy and paste the required data from Excel into the PowerPoint graph worksheet instead of re-entering it and possibly making a mistake in keying.

Clean up the default graph
Unfortunately, the default graphs in PowerPoint (or Excel for that matter), are burdened by elements that detract from the true meaning of the graph.  In the In Context step of the KWICK method, we want the visual to be easy to understand.  So you should get rid of distracting elements like the 3-D effect, excessive text on the axis, the legend and gridlines.  By making the graph cleaner, you place the focus on the data instead of the peripheral elements.

Include callouts to indicate the most important spot on the graph
The C step in the KWICK method calls for us to make the visual Crystal Clear.  On graphs, we need to add a callout that points to the most important spot on the graph and callout text that explains why we want the audience to focus on this spot.  We can also increase the clarity by using an emphasis color for an important pie wedge, column or bar.

Build graphs one data series or data point at a time
The last step in the KWICK method is Keep Focus.  For graphs, we should build the graph series by series or point by point so we can explain each one individually.  If you have a line graph, you can build each line from left to right and talk about the trend that is being shown.  With a column graph, you can build each column and comment on the height of the column and what it means to the audience.  With a pie chart, you would build each wedge and explain the significance of the size of the wedge.

The KWICK method is applied to every visual that we create, whether it is a graph, a diagram, a photo, a video clip or any other visual.  By focusing on building persuasive visuals, we can increase the effectiveness of our presentation.

To learn more, I recommend these resources

In my workshops, I often get asked how to do the things I suggest.  People agree that they need to clean up a graph or add a callout or use animation to build elements on the slide, but sometimes they don’t know how to do it in PowerPoint.  That’s why I put together a series of short “how-to” videos that will show you exactly how to build a graph, clean up a graph, add animation, create handouts, and so many other topics – there are over 30 videos in all.  You can check out the list of videos and download the video on creating a graph in PowerPoint, including how to copy the data from Excel, at www.PPtHowToVideos.com

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.