Presentation graphs are one of the most challenging visuals to get right. Often they’re cluttered and the message isn’t clear. They typically need someone to decipher them. That’s not helpful if you’re trying to be persuasive and make a sale.
Graphs should visually transmit their main message without any help from you, the presenter.
The key is to make the message obvious. I like to call it “active.” Make your graphs active; make them tell their own story.
Let’s look at an example.
There are two parts to active graphs. The first is the title. My starting title here is “Gross Monthly Sales.” That gives me an idea of what I’m looking at, but tells me nothing about the message I’m trying to convey.
A closer look shows me that sales are increasing over 12 months. That’s the point I should be making. It should be reflected in the title. Let’s change that title to “Gross Sales Increasing,” or “Increasing Gross Sales.”
When I refer to a title bar as “active,” I mean that the text helps to advance your position, rather than just stating what the subject matter is. The simple addition of a verb makes the title active – it conveys action; it tells me what’s happening.
That’s much stronger. But the visual is weak. That’s the second part of the challenge – the message of the graph itself. Here are the steps I’d take to clean it up:
- Get rid of all the clutter. 3D looks pretty, but most of the time gets in the way of the message. The rule is that if it isn’t critical or doesn’t add to the message, get rid of it.
- Redundant text takes attention away from the key message. The subtitle, “Monthly Sales of All Product Lines,” should simply be “All Product Lines.” Likewise, review all the text on your graph and get rid of anything that clutters it up. Less is more.
- Get rid of the unnecessary column values. I see so many graphs with value labels on the columns when they’re just not needed. What it does is focus the mind on individual monthly performance. That’s not my intent here. I want to convey how we did over the entire year. So, let’s lose the column values.
- Always be sure to take a critical look at the range. The original range goes from $0 to $50. However, the rise in sales doesn’t look as dramatic as I’d like it to. Tightening the range will focus attention on the most important aspect of the message – the increase. I’ve made the new range 15 to 45 and put the dollar sign at the top of the axis. Much cleaner!
- Finally, let’s put the icing on the cake. Add a big, yellow arrow sloping up to show the trend.
The key is “Don’t make your audience think to much!” This is all about communication, so your job should be to communicate your main point as clearly as possible. Increasing clarity and reducing distractions is what it’s all about.
It will also make your job as a presenter so much easier and your presentation that much clearer!