How to Add Data Visualization to Your Technical Presentations
“The purpose of visualization is insight, not pictures.”– Ben A. Shneiderman, American computer scientist
You deal with a lot of data if you are a technical person. Presenting this data to your audience is a real challenge. You may be able to draw conclusions from the data, but your audience will not unless you deliver it in a “digestible” way.
So how do you do this? You use data visualization.
Below are three methods to do this.
Choose the Right Type of Visualization
Many types of data visualization exist, including bar charts, line graphs, scatterplots, and heat maps.
Choose the type of visualization most appropriate for the data you are presenting and the message you want to convey.
Make sure the visualization is easy to understand and interpret, and avoid using overly complex or confusing visualizations.
Consider the message you want to convey: Different visualizations are better suited to different data types and messages. For example, a bar chart might be more appropriate for comparing data between different categories, while a line chart might better show trends over time.
Think about your data: Your data will also influence the type of visualization you choose. For example, a bar chart might be appropriate if you have discrete data (such as categories or counts). On the other hand, if you have continuous data (such as time series or measurements), a line chart or scatter plot might be more appropriate.
Consider your audience: Different types of visualizations may be familiar to different audiences, so choosing a type of visualization with which your audience is likely to be comfortable is essential. Additionally, some types of visualizations may be more engaging or appealing to specific audiences, so choosing a type of visualization that will resonate with your audience and help you effectively communicate your message is crucial.
Using the wrong data visualization with your audience will only confuse them. Therefore, to the best of your ability, match the data visualization you use with your audience.
Remember the KISS principle – keep it simple stupid. Data visualization is no different.
Keep It Simple
While data visualization can be a powerful tool for communicating complex information, it’s essential to keep it simple.
Avoid using too many visualizations on one slide; ensure each visualization is easy to read and understand.
Use clear labels and headings to help guide your audience’s understanding of the data.
Three methods to keeping data visualization simple are:
Avoid visual clutter: One of the main reasons to keep data visualization simple is to avoid visual clutter. Too many elements, colors, or labels can distract from the main message you want to convey, making it harder for your audience to understand and remember the information you are presenting.
Use appropriate labeling and headings: To keep data visualization simple, it’s essential to use proper labeling and headings. Make sure your labels are clear, concise, and easy to read, and use titles to provide context and guide your audience’s understanding of the information you are presenting.
Choose appropriate colors and fonts: Another way to keep data visualization simple is to choose proper colors and fonts. Use a limited color palette to avoid overwhelming your audience with too many colors. Choose colors that are easily distinguishable from each other and avoid using colors that may be difficult to see for people with color vision deficiencies. Similarly, choose fonts that are easy to read and use them consistently throughout your visualizations to provide a cohesive look and feel.
So, choose the correct visualization and keep it simple.
It also helps to use data visualization to tell a story.
Use Data Visualization to Tell a Story
Use data visualization to tell a story that supports your message, such as highlighting trends, comparisons, or relationships between data points. Use these to support the key points you want to make in your presentation. Use annotations or callouts to draw attention to specific data points or to provide additional context.
Below are three more ways to use data visualization to tell a story:
Presenting Trends and Patterns: Data visualization can effectively showcase trends and patterns over time or across different variables. Line graphs, bar charts, or scatter plots are commonly used to illustrate such data. By carefully selecting and designing the visual elements, you can highlight key insights and relationships, enabling the audience to grasp the story behind the data.
Comparing and Contrasting: Visualization allows you to compare different sets of data, revealing similarities, differences, or trends. For example, side-by-side bar charts, stacked area graphs, or radar charts can help you emphasize variations and draw meaningful comparisons.
Storyboarding or Narrative Flow: Data visualization can create a storytelling flow by structuring the information in a sequence or storyline. This approach is often used when presenting a series of events, steps, or processes. In addition, interactive visualizations, such as timelines, flowcharts, or animated graphics, can guide the audience through a narrative journey.
Using data visualization to tell a story leads your audience through a logical sequence that builds upon what came before. This is a powerful way to convince your audience what you say is hard to refute.
Selecting the correct visualization, keeping the visualization simple, and using data visualization to tell a story are powerful presentation delivery methods, especially for technical presentations.
Using data visualization in your presentations may take a bit of work, but the payback is immense. Fortunately, the more you do it, the better you become, and the better you become means you can apply data visualizations in your presentations faster.
Call to Action
Refer to books on data visualization to learn how to use it in your presentations correctly.
Keep your data visualization “lean and fit.” Ensure your data visualization is simple to explain and has a high return on investment.
Tell stories in your presentation by logically leading your audience through data visualization.
“The goal is to turn data into information, and information into insight.”– Carly Fiorina, ex CEO of Hewlett-Packard
Frank DiBartolomeo is a retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and award-winning speaker, presentation and interview skills coach, and Professional Member of the National Speakers Association. He was awarded Toastmasters International’s highest individual award, Distinguished Toastmaster because of his outstanding work in public speaking and leadership.
Frank formed DiBartolomeo Consulting International (DCI), LLC (www.speakleadandsucceed.com) in 2007. The mission of DCI is to help technical professionals to inspire, motivate, and influence their colleagues and other technical professionals by improving their presentation skills, communication, and personal presence. Reach Frank at email@example.com and (703) 509-4424.
Don’t miss Frank DiBartolomeo’s latest book!
“Speak Well and Prosper: Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Better Presentations”