547 confusing graphs – yippee!

graphThe Devil’s in the Detail

It’s so easy to get trapped in the detail when that’s how you earn your money.  So when presenting to an audience, whether you’re an entrepreneur, a financial analyst, engineer or consultant, PowerPoint can easily become an onslaught of bullet points, dry data and confusing graphs: all qualities that muddy your message.

 

When a picture says a thousands words – or numbers

Research has shown that ideas are much more likely to be remembered if they are presented as pictures instead of words or pictures paired with words.

Psychologists call this the Picture Superiority Effect (PSE), the point of which is thus:

 

If information is presented orally, people remember about 10% of the content 72 hours later. That figure goes up to 65% if you add a picture.

 

Visuals that work

A picture saves a thousand words:

rhino

Suzanne, the IT Director of a national retail organisation, knew her audience of in Marketing and Business Development where going to be challenging.  She flashed up her slide of huge white rhino.

 

“So often,” she began, “The IT department are seen like this rhino:  thick-skinned, short-sighted and charging all the time.”.

A barrage of data versus one point

If you’re presenting to those dealing with data every day, seeing more of it in a presentation, can give that audience sort of  data death.  If you’re not there to persuade your audience to act on something, then it’s a report, not a presentation.  Your audience want to see the key message, the one point.

One utilities company that I was training, needed to do a presentation to their investors.  Their point: invest in us: we’re on the up, and you’ll see returns, guarded against risk.

It was a team ‘performance’ to a very financially astute crowd.  They had this brilliantly colourful slide of a ship and lifeboats, a dynamic cartoon, which was a great metaphor for the way they were operating.

We crafted a message around this picture that had such an impact on the audience, that the share prices shot up (so it wasn’t a picture of the Titanic, that’s for sure).

Numbers were mentioned in a way they got remembered but there wasn’t a bar graph or pie chart in sight and the investors loved the refreshing and memorable way this team conveyed a message clearly, with humour and the evidence to prove their success.

There’s nothing to prove so put it away!

If you feel that you need to put so much data on your slides, ask yourself if there’s perhaps a little urge to prove that you’ve done your homework as an analyst/number cruncher?

By shoving so much detail in your audience’s face, they are not only more likely to forget what you’re talking about but why.  The information you give to your audience needs to make a difference to the world in which they function.

If people want more detail, wave your report at them, but don’t give it out until the end.  That way, they’ll know you’ve done your homework, and that they can get to the nitty gritty when they want, but you won’t be hearing the rustling of pages while you present your message.

When you give the facts that your audiences need to make the changes that will impact their world, you’ll be seen as an expert and a trusted advisor.

 

What’s the best use of visuals you’ve seen?  Comment below and we’ll swop tips!

comment arrow

 

 

 

2 replies
  1. Ken Burrell
    Ken Burrell says:

    Hi Alison!

    Good point on the powerful use of visuals vs. numbers. A few years ago I was managing a project that involved the design and manufacture of a pressure vessel made of plastic, and I got the feeling that some people in my organisation were not taking the careful design of this vessel seriously.

    I worked out that the forces acting on the end of the vessel were equivalent to an elephant standing on it on one leg! For my next presentation I got the graphics department to put together an image of our pressure vessel with an elephant standing on top of it on one leg.

    I believe that image made people think more seriously about the forces involved and the care that needed to be taken in its design than quoting figures or design guidelines.

    Regards, Ken Burrell

    Reply
    • Alison
      Alison says:

      Thanks for that, Ken: it’s a great example of deciding what point you want to get across and delivering it in a way that will have impact and be remembered.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *