By Somali K Chakrabarti
So you have been working hard on collating your data and here is your chance to present it to your boss. You have an hour’s slot. Of course you want to present to the best of your abilities and you want to showcase the amount of efforts you have expended on the exercise. This is your opportunity to make an impression! You are diligently putting all the data in your slides and have come up with this killer presentation. Fifty slides with a number of charts and graphs should be good enough to impress your boss. Or is it?
Hold on. A good idea is to step back, rethink and make sure that you have covered all these aspects.
The first step is to make sure that you have clearly identified the message you want to communicate and its relevance to business. For example you may want to show a comparison of the change in sales volumes in different regions after a particular campaign or you may want to convince the management about a reduction in Turnaround Time (TAT) that can be achieved by optimizing the production process. Any information you present and how you present it is successful only as long as it communicates the relevant message effectively to your target audience.
After you have identified the message you want to communicate, the next step is to figure out ways to communicate your message clearly, efficiently, and with the desired impact. A good presentation should have a logical flow, should be easy to understand, interpret and to use. Most listeners, particularly your boss, will be interested in your interpretation of the data and not on the raw data itself, so the focus should be more on presenting concepts and inferences rather than on the raw data. Any amount of data will not impress a knowledgeable audience if inferences are not clear.
Remember that ‘Less is More’ when you present to a high power audience. It is never a good idea to inundate listeners with too much of data and statistics. Do not mix more than 2 or 3 key messages or themes in one presentation. Avoid unnecessary words, phrases or jargon when presenting to higher ups. Present the most important information first, and add details only where necessary.
Visual representation creates a better recall. The use of bars and charts makes it easier to compare and contrast, see patterns and make sense of data than figures and tables.
However too much of distracting or glitzy visual content can dilute your message. Avoid using overtly complicated graphs or charts where you can convey your message clearly with a simple chart. Take for example take the use of pie charts. Pie charts are well suited for comparing percentage distribution of parts of a whole but when there are too many thin slices or slices of a similar size, a pie chart looks cluttered and is difficult to interpret. Besides they do not show changes over time. Changes over a time period can be tracked better using bar graphs or line graphs. While bar graphs are best used when the changes are larger, smaller changes are better depicted using line graphs.
Thus, it is important to select and use appropriate graphs or charts that are most suited to communicate your message. It is also necessary to highlight meaningful patterns such as trends and exceptions, while cutting down the meaningless fluff. Picking up a case and following a story line is quite effective if you want to track a particular occurrence of a chain of events.
The process from data collection to presentation leaves a lot of room for ambiguity, interpretations and even manipulation. The availability (or rather non availability) of data often impacts the choice of variables. How you normalize data, the weights that you assign to different variables, or how you aggregate data influence results. As such you need to be prepared with justifications for the choices you make.
Besides, it is important to watch the tone the message and adapt it to the expectations of the audience. Use of sensational statements can communicate biases or lead to biased interpretations. So, while statements such as ‘Our sales will shoot up by 10% in the next quarter‘ can cut an impression with a general audience, these are best avoided while presenting to a knowledgeable audience.
Another area that requires you to have a cautious approach is while attributing cause to any event. Sometimes events may be correlated but one event may not necessarily lead to another. Conclusions such as ‘X caused Y’ should be made only when there is ample evidence to justify it.
Last but not the least, it pays to remember that how you present is just as important as what you present. This is where practice helps.
With a focus on expressing your message clearly, explaining it, substantiating it with inferences drawn from available data and presenting with appropriate visuals, you will stand a higher chance of creating the right impact than you will ever have by stuffing lots of data and charts into your presentation.
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