What’s With All Those Numbers? – Presenting Data Effectively

16 Feb

We are a few weeks away from our first Management 201 presentation, and many of us will provide data-driven recommendations for our clients.  Quantitative analysis is critical to our consulting work, however numbers can kill a presentation so we must be cautious.  Here are some tips to engage an audience with data:

Clear Takeaway.  Many people are overwhelmed by data-rich presentations, so we must ensure that our main point is obvious from just looking at the slide.  Instead of using a vague title, such as “Profit Comparison of our 3 Options”, write, “Option 2 has the Greatest Profit”.  This title will give viewers an idea of what they should look for in the numbers.  In addition, highlighting important information and removing any clutter will make your takeaways stand out.

Tangible Data.  In this video link (http://youtu.be/3lsMFzxtSZ8?t=1h56m18s), Steve Jobs could have told his audience that Apple’s new North Carolina data center costs $1 billion and is 500,000 square feet.  Instead, he conveys the cost by showing an image of endless rows of servers that he calls, “expensive stuff.”  He also uses an image of two humans on top of the building to show how large the center is.  Which way do you think is more effective?

Not everyone in an audience is comfortable with numbers.  Using images invokes existing schemas, and visuals make data tangible and more memorable to a wider audience.  Remember, the message a number conveys is much more important than then number itself.  Look at these images for examples on how to make data into a powerful image.

Information Progression.  We often shy away from animations because they can be a distraction.  However, animating data is powerful because it allows us to explain every point in incremental steps without the audience being distracted by all the numbers, graphs, and charts.  People will get more from your presentation if you walk them through the step-by-step logic of your data.  Don’t fall into the “curse of knowledge” trap!  The takeaway will be greater if the audience builds to your point.

Important Consideration.  Numbers are important in any decision.  However, don’t let data become too large of a focus in a presentation because its manipulability makes people skeptical.  For example, Facebook is a recent suspect of misleading data. Facebook’s prospectus (a document for investors that describes the company’s financial state) claims that the site has 845 million active users.  Upon further exploration, it turns out that Facebook’s definition of active user includes those who access the website from a third party plugin.  This discovery is significant because Facebook makes most of its money from advertising, and if users are accessing Facebook from a third party website, then they cannot be marketed to.

For more tips visit www.presentation-process.com

More about Facebook: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2012/02/06/those-millions-on-facebook-some-may-not-actually-visit/

by Jacob Trunsky

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2 Responses to “What’s With All Those Numbers? – Presenting Data Effectively”

  1. Greg Porter February 17, 2012 at 3:16 am #

    Jacob, what a great post! Presenting data is vital in any business setting. People seldom understand that no matter how good your calculations are, they are only meaningful if others can understand them. In the business school, where data is so vital, this article provides additional significance.

  2. Diarra Edwards February 18, 2012 at 11:14 pm #

    Jacob,
    Your pointers are really good. Its overwhelming whenever I go to a presentation and get swamped with numbers. And I’m always suspicious when someone draws a conclusion from an intimidating graph without adequately explaining their reasoning. Aside from the trust issue how can you know if their logic is sound if you don’t get it? Conversely, there are times when I have to explain a data set and am at a loss for how to explain it in a way that’s understandable and engaging. Its definitely important to keep the audience in mind.

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