Published On: July 1, 2020Categories: Data VisualizationBy

Defeat The Demons Of Bad Presentations With Data Visualization (And 5 Pro Tips To Do It Right)

It’s Tuesday morning at 9 AM. You’ve rehearsed your board presentation over and over for the last week. You’re feeling nervous, but you’re jazzed about your presentation. You’ve totally got this in the bag.

And then it happens.

The moment your slides come up, the board members’ eyes float away in a fog—one guy even starts checking his email.

The presentation goes over like a lead balloon. You find yourself scratching and clawing your way through the silent room, hoping the board will, by some miracle, approve your proposal.

Chances are, there’s nothing wrong with the structure of your presentation. You’re one smart cookie, after all.

Your slide deck is actually at fault.

Think about it:

  • Did you throw a lot of numbers on the screen?
  • Was your data table monstrously huge and hard to read?
  • Did your slide deck include visuals?
  • Were you reading text verbatim from a slide?

You have to design slide decks for humans, and humans like visuals. Data visualization is a key component of any presentation, but few presenters prioritize it.

What is data visualization?

Data visualization takes your information and data and presents it in a visual way. That includes things like:

  • Charts
  • Infographics
  • Maps
  • Graphs

Visualized data communicates your message faster than text. Your audience doesn’t have 5 minutes to read a text-heavy slide, anyway. They want to see statistical relationships, patterns, and trends so they can make faster conclusions. Data visualization makes that possible.

Why do I need data visualization?

But this is more than slapping a graph together in Canva. Pie charts alone won’t help you go for gold. Your data and visuals have to work together and tell a story. That’s why few presenters use data visualization; it can be hard to make a cohesive presentation.

But boy, when you dial in the story behind your visuals, you get stuff done, boss.

In fact, data visualization is a big, big part of creating a successful presentation. Here’s why it’s so powerful.

1. Humans prefer visuals

You can’t argue with the science, folks: human brains love visuals. It’s much easier for us to identify trends and meaning in a visual versus a huge list of numbers. If you aren’t getting audience engagement or participation, data visualization will perk your audience back up.

2. Communicate better and faster

If you’re dumping a ton of numbers on a slide, that opens it up to different interpretations by your audience. If you don’t want a board member to say, “Well, actually the data says…,” then you need to tell a compelling story with visuals. Visuals remove the noise from your data by highlighting useful conclusions.

3. Data visualization looks professional

Maybe it sounds a little vain, but data visualization makes your presentation look sleek and sexy. If you really need to knock people’s socks off, you need data visualizations so professional that people will say, “How did she make that?”

5 tips to make better data visualizations

The better you can convey your points visually, the better use you’ll make of your data. After all, data is only useful if people get the message behind it.

But how do you build awesome visuals that get your point across? Here are 5 tips to get you off on the right foot.

1. Know your audience

Who’s watching your presentation? The visual choices you make for internal C-suite execs will be very different from what your clients expect.

That’s why you’ve got to adjust your data visualizations to your audience’s expectations. For example, busy senior leaders usually want the abbreviated version of your data so they can make faster decisions. But a customer might want to know how you came up with those numbers.

What’s the one thing you need people to take away from your data? What impact do you need to have on them?

Make sure every piece of data ties back to your audience’s expectations and your desired outcome. Everything else is just clutter.

2. Tell the right story

Behind every stat is a story, and data visualization helps you tell that story.

And yes, you need a story behind the data. Otherwise, your audience with subconsciously give your data a story of its own, and that can derail even the best-planned presentation.

Write your presentation flow and story before creating your slides. When you know what you want to say, you’ll know how to visualize it in a wow-worthy way.

This also keeps you from committing the cardinal sin of presenting: reading text word for word from a slide. Telling a story means you can add color commentary to your data-driven slides, honoring your audience’s intelligence and time.

3. Use the best medium

After you’ve planned your story, you need to visualize components of that story with charts, graphs, or infographics.

Problem is, which medium is right for your data? Will a bar graph win you the account, or does the client need to see a pie chart to sign on the dotted line?

Choose a visual representation that meshes with your data. Opt for visuals that are simple, clean, and very easy to understand.

4. Show less, not more

A lot of presenters fall into the trap of throwing more and more crap on their slides. It might make you feel more confident, but this actually makes your audience think, “Oh no, this is too much,” and divert their gaze back to their phones.

Less is more with data visualizations. If you cram too many graphs in one presentation, it’s going to feel like data overload. It’s hard to read and interpret so much information at once, confusing your audience.

Remember, you have one big goal for this presentation. Every visual should serve that goal. When in doubt, few well-placed visuals sell more effectively than a glut of graphics.

5. Master data visualization design

We’re all for flair, but your flair has to make sense. If you add the Guy With A Sign meme to your big-time C-suite presentation, they’re probably not going to be impressed.

Show a little personality, but with restraint. The presentation still needs to look like a professional made it, not a sixth-grader with a penchant for glitter text.

Feel free to try:

  • Color-coding your visuals: Use color to differentiate between variables, draw attention to a particular stat, or make categories. But it shouldn’t look like a rainbow threw up on your chart; use no more than 5 colors at once.
  • Using a few fonts: A tasteful array of fonts breaks up the presentation and draws your audience’s eye to the right places. Don’t use more than 3 fonts for the entire presentation, though.
  • Movement: Tasteful movements like fade-ins or spins can, in some cases, keep your audience engaged with the material on your slide. Watch that you don’t cross the line between engaging movement and cheesy flair.

The bottom line

Defeat the demons of bad presentations with data visualizations. Whether it’s a simple pie chart or a badass infographic, a few tasteful visuals will make your presentation pop. Data visualization design doesn’t have to be your forte, either. Use a smart platform like as a data visualization tool that says more in less time (it’ll be our little secret).

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