4 Tips for Making Data Accessible to a Presentation Audience

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4 Tips for Making Data Accessible to a Presentation Audience

By the time you’re at the front of the room given a presentation, you’ve probably spent a fair amount of time with your data and presentation deck. But the audience hasn’t had this advantage; many of them will be seeing it for the first time. This means it’s very important to avoid dumping an overwhelming deluge of facts, research, and graphs on your audience.

Making data accessible to a presentation audience requires a different approach than circulating a spreadsheet or writing a blog post would. It’s all about making information visible and digestible to viewers almost instantaneously—and making sure that all the data you present supports your overall points. Here are four tips.

Write a Headline for Each Slide

Where do people’s eyes go when you transition to a new slide? Most likely they head to the title first in an attempt to figure out what they’re going to be learning about next.

This is why one presentation expert recommends imagining each slide as a news story instead. Ask yourself: What’s newsworthy about the data you’re presenting? Instead of just using a generic title like “Customer churn for June,” tell viewers what’s significant about that customer churn: “Customer churn dropped 18 percent in June.” Then discuss why.

Emphasize Takeaways—Not Hard Data

Thinking of data in terms of news-worthiness means you’re focusing on takeaways and implications rather than expecting audience members to quickly extrapolate meaning from data on their own.

The audience engagement experts at Poll Everywhere recommend overtly emphasizing the takeaway of each graph or chart you present during a data presentation. The takeaway is ultimate “what the data means.” You can get over here. Eliminate any chance for misinterpretation or conclusion by summing up the main takeaway verbally and textually.

Few people will remember the graph itself, but hopefully most or all viewers will remember your clearly emphasized, plainly stated main takeaway backed up by data.

Turn Complex Concepts into Simple Visualizations

Data can get pretty complex. Presentations never should. It’s your job to turn complex concepts into simple, digestible visualizations that facilitate audience comprehension.

Part of the challenge here is choosing the best visualization for the data at hand. You’ve got options, but want to choose the model that’ll best convey the point you’re trying to make with the data you have.

The Stanford Graduate School of Business offers a few ways to explain intricate concepts at a glance:

  • Flowchart: Explain procedural or hierarchical data in a flowchart that proceeds from broad to increasingly narrow, helping your audience see the progression.
  • List: Avoid cluttering your slides with a copy by making a blunt numbered or bulleted list to convey a process.
  • Compare: Use analogies, metaphors, and similes to make abstract concepts seem more real.
  • Image: Use an illustration, photo or video to show something in action that’d be tricky to put into words.
  • Reverse Map: Start with the end goal or conclusion then work backward to illustrate how to reach it.
  • Clusters: Break concepts into clusters, grouping ideas by commonality to help audience members understand.

You’re the tour guide. Remember showing, not telling, is more effective. This is where a well-made, relevant data visualization model can help.

Make Your Slides Accessible to All

Last, but certainly not least, make sure your slides are accessible to everyone in the room. Not only is this just the right thing to do because it boosts inclusivity, but it will help everyone get more value from your presentation.

Make sure your text is clearly visible, even to people in the back row. Design your deck with readability in mind. Use contrasting colors. Take the time to explain tables, charts, statistics, etc. instead of falling back on saying something like “As you can all see here…”

It’s entirely possible to make data, even complex information, access to an audience during a presentation—it just requires understanding and planning accordingly.

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