Presentations 101: Data Visualization

by
Kristian Olson

If you’ve ever had the task of presenting data, then you’ll want to read this post to explore data visualization ideas. Data visualization helps you add energy and clarity to what can otherwise be boring and confusing.

What is data visualization?

It’s the process of taking numbers and data points and organizing them into effective and attractive visuals. The data and conclusions may be complex; data visualization simplifies it. Audiences can grasp the importance of the data in a digestible way.

Data visualization is not the same as infographics

Many use these terms interchangeably or consider infographics to be a subset of data visualization. Not true. First, data visualization is really limited to charts, graphs, and plots. It’s also objective—it’s about numbers.

Infographics illustrate a story and a collection of ideas and thoughts. It’s a very subjective form of content, where specific information is used to prove a point.

Why use data visualization?

Data visualization communicates your data much more effectively than text. Consider how using a trend line on a chart instantly conveys the information. Reading that information as text is a much slower cognitive process.

Data visualizations are made from data and design. They offer a clear picture of the data as a whole and what insights it delivers. These visualizations consist of information that is a fixed set of numbers. Data visualization is what you might consider free from opinion because it communicates raw data with no commentary.

Because of this, you should design to the data and eliminate any unnecessary graphics. Don’t distract viewers, pull them in with the important story the data reveals. With this approach, you are more likely to have an audience that remains alert and can draw their own conclusions.

Finally, you need to understand your audience. What does the data mean to them? Why should they care? What is the best way to display it to them?

Asking these questions will enable you to see the data from a new perspective.

Finding your story

All data has a story to tell. Usually this comes in the form of an answered question. (In story terms, think of this as the resolution to a conflict). The data needs to answer the question. It should show an increase or decrease. It may indicate a trend line or multiple points.

When to use data visualization in presentations

There are certain situations where data visualization is the best format to use when trying to engage viewers. You probably use data visualization all the time to show snapshots of stats or to influence buyers on your website. You understand the power that great data can wield to engage and intrigue.

Use data visualizations for any of these areas:

  • Statistics for populations
  • Showing trends over time
  • Displaying growth or decline
  • Timelines
  • Telling a visual story
  • Progressive steps
  • Organizing large sets of data and number

These are just a few examples. Data visualizations can be used in most any scenario where the data is quantitative and fixed.

Data visualization limitations and mistakes to avoid

You may think that you can plug even the most complex data into PowerPoint or Keynote and magically get a great chart or graphs. However, those programs have limitations, and they aren’t always the most user-friendly. The problem, with plugging in all your data points, is that you probably have too many variables. You really don’t want 30 slices in your pie chart. Keep data in bite-sized bits so that it’s not so overwhelming.

You need to go back to the story. What data supports it? That’s what you need to focus on in creating data visualizations. The rest is just a distraction.

Data visualization tips

If you’re struggling to make sense of your data and present it in a visually engaging way, you should consider these tips.

1.    Get your variables down to a manageable number.

2.    Include an eye-catching title.

3.    Use brand colors and font—you can add some flair but keep it simple.

4.    Place data visualizations on their own page.

5.    If the data is complex and cannot be edited, use lines or copy to call-out the most important areas.

If you want a less stressful way to master data visualizations, KO/AD is here to help. We create presentations that tell great stories with data visualizations that work.  

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