One of the most crucial aspects of any PowerPoint presentation is the supporting evidence. It lets the audience know that you’re not just making empty claims; instead, you have solid data to back up your assertions and conclusions. Incorporating hard data and statistics in your presentation can make the difference between an impressed and an unconvinced audience.
But how do you present that data? How do you make sure that your audience feels like they’ve been educated, but no confused or lied to about statistics? By following these guidelines.
Keep it Simple
As you probably know, preparing your PowerPoint presentation follows the iceberg principle: the end result presented to the audience is only a fraction of your preparation. Most of the work and research you’ve done, though essential to the success of your presentation, will never be visible in the finished product.
That’s because it’s important not to confuse the audience. Keeping in only the most important facts and data ensures that your audience doesn’t fall into the trap of prioritizing the wrong statistics. Rounding up numbers (“more than 50,000” rather than “51,523”) makes them easier to remember. And while comparisons with 20 reference points may be valuable in your actual research, picking only the 3-4 most important ones avoids further confusion.
Stick to 2D
PowerPoint offers a great deal of options for your charts, the most intriguing (and visually attractive) options being 3D charts. The problem: perspective makes the data difficult to correctly evaluate by your audience. It’s an issue of not seeing the forest for the trees: by having to focus on where a 3D bar ends on the Y-Axis, your audience will likely fail to focus on the actual data presented. Our brain focus on pictures more than facts; if the pictures seem to overwhelm the facts, the latter is more easily forgotten.
2D graphs, on the other hand, are easy to comprehend and thus more easily support your arguments. We can perceive 2D space well, more easily than perspective or depth. Bar charts, line charts and scatterplot charts are particularly effective ways to get your data across to the audience.
The Importance of Color
Now that you’ve picked your chart, it’s time to consider the color. As always, it’s important to keep the cultural background of your audience in mind. For example, while “red” has a warning implication and is generally used to depict bad/undesirable data, it stands for auspiciousness and luck in Chinese culture.
When designing their PowerPoint charts, many presenters use a gradient to show developments or trends. That makes perfect sense; at the same time, though, you should always keep the colors separate enough from each other to avoid confusion when one data point starts and the other end. When emphasizing differences in data, choosing from opposite points of the color wheel is generally a good idea.
Remember the old saying of “lies, damn lies and statistics?” It’s easy to lie with data, even inadvertently so. Always keep your X and Y axes consistent throughout your slides. That’s easily said, but more difficult to execute. PowerPoint automatically resets the Y axis to a number that makes sense for that specific chart; but if you utilize the same chart on another slide, it may look like a completely separate set of data point, and skew the presentation of your data.
Keeping the X and Y axis the same follows this simple guideline: if data 1 is twice as big than data 2, its bar should be exactly twice as long – even if it’s presented on a different slide. Anything else is a misrepresentation of your data. Aside from the ethical implications of lying with data, imagine how much (or little) your audience will trust you once they discovered what you’re doing.
Hopefully, we haven’t scared you away from using data in the future. As we mentioned above, including statistics in your presentation is crucial to support your argument and show your work. Following these guidelines ensures that you do so clearly, understandably and ethically.