Showing variance to plan; Slide Makeover #103

CPG sales, marketing, and product managers regularly report on variance to plan for sales in dollars or units. Because the reporting is driven from a database, often the table of numbers is copied onto a slide. This makeover shows how to visually show the variance using a diverging bar chart.


Discussion of original

Easy to create: Since this visual is simply a copy and paste from Excel or a web-based reporting tool into PowerPoint, it is easy to create. Just because it is easy to create doesn’t mean it is effectively communicating the key message.

Makes the audience figure out the message: This visual makes the audience try to figure out the important messages from the overload of numbers. This is risky as a presenter because each audience member may come to a different conclusion and not necessarily the one you were hoping them to see.


Discussion of Makeover

Diverging bars: This is a standard bar chart in Excel and is referred to as a diverging bar chart because the positive and negative values diverge or start from a common zero point and go in each direction. This makes it easy for the viewer to see whether the values are positive or negative and to compare the values.

Multi-level category labels: The graph uses multiple levels of category labels for the time periods. This allows the periods to be visually grouped into the quarters on the vertical axis. This feature is built into Excel and makes it easy to organize the data into groups for the viewer.

Totals in different color: Two data series are used to show the total values in a different color than the period values. This makes it easy for the viewer to see the grouping and distinguish which values are for individual periods and which are for quarterly totals. It also makes it easy for the viewer to focus on either just the quarterly totals or drill into the periods for a quarter.

All elements are data driven: Every element of the visual is driven from the data table in Excel, including the direction of the bars and the bar colors. This allows the graph to automatically update when the data changes, saving you time every period or quarter.


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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 1.2 million times and liked over 12,000 times on YouTube.