I get it, you spent months (maybe years) collecting data. Finally, you have an opportunity to show off the results in your charts, graphs, or other snazzy data visualizations. Human nature would be to cram every single datapoint onto each of your visuals. I mean, you want to prove you’ve been actually doing something in your lab or office during all of that time when you claimed to have been “gathering data.” Right? But, are you helping your audience truly comprehend the results?  I’d like you to use the following question as your litmus test:

“What is the main point I am trying to make with this graph?”

I know it seems obvious. But I believe that this one simple question can help you focus your graph’s message and more effectively explain your point.

Let’s take this sample slide:

Yup, believe it or not some people will throw this up on the screen and try to explain what it means and the points they want to make. There hasn’t been a laser pointer invented yet that can keep people interested in this!!

So let’s take the raw data on this slide and walk through some hypothetical situations.

Scenario 1 – You’ve been asked what categories the European Union should help support. The main point you want to make is that Consulting & Products make about half of of all profit. That’s more than all the other categories combined. In that case your slide could look like this:

A slide design example of a focused point

Scenario 2 – You’ve been asked to help a sales team to figure out what companies to target with new marketing. You want to show three countries you think are the best targets and how much growth potential there is compared to their biggest customer country. In that case your slide could look like this:

Sample slide design illustrating selective data points

In both scenarios you’ll notice several common points:

  • The question “What is the main point I am trying to make with this graph?” was asked first
  • Only the data necessary to make that point was used.
  • Color contrast was use to highlight the data

By keeping chart slides focused around your key point, you’ll find that your audience spends less time trying to “decode” the slide and more time listen to you and seeing you as the expert in the room.