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7 Ways To Make Data Work in Your Next Presentation

When you're presenting information to an audience, the objective is to communicate your main points clearly. Data can help you a lot — but only if you deliver it the right way. If it's indistinct, hard to read or misleading, your data can take away from your point rather than enhance it. Here are seven ways you can make sure your data works for you in your next presentation.


1. Know Your Audience

Before you write the first word or create the first chart, make sure you've clearly defined your audience. The group you're speaking to affects your delivery. Suppose, for example, you are bringing new information to a group who is at an entry level. To avoid talking over their heads, you can consider removing any jargon from your speech unless you explain it. Your data should be easy to comprehend.

On the other hand, if you're presenting information to a group of peers, making things too simple can come across as talking down to your audience. Your data can be more complex and a question-and-answer session may be on a deeper level.


2. Clearly Label Your Points

You worked hard to gather your data with the help of a data wrangler or on your own. Either way, you want to make sure your audience understands the data as well as you do. You can help them read the information by clearly labeling the points on your graphs and charts. Try to pare down your wording as much as possible — for example, rather than using "30 Years, 40 Years, 50 Years," etc. in a table, use "Years" as a header and list the numbers alone.

If you have a lot of data in one chart, consider breaking it down into two or three charts to keep it simple. The audience can benefit from having information presented in small chunks rather than reviewing it all at once. You can take this idea a step further and put the charts on separate slides to keep your audience focused on one point at a time.


3. Draw Attention to the Highlight

The data you choose for your presentation supports your point of view — otherwise, you wouldn't include it. Find the area of your graph or chart that states your main objective and draw attention to it. You can verbally point it out in your speech, but you can also create a visual highlight for the audience so that they find it easily. Highlighting the important area on your chart reinforces your point to the audience.


4. Write a Title To Reflect Your Main Point

Your title can also reinforce your main objective. A title that summarizes your point can direct your audience's attention to the subject. Using the title "Bee Population," for example, doesn't explain the point like "The Declining Number of Beehives Since 1947" does.


5. Make Your Data Visible

Your audience needs to be able to see your data. You can enact this tip literally and figuratively. First, you want to make sure your data is presented in a simple, easy-to-scan format with text used sparingly and main points highlighted. Secondly, making sure your data is readable means using graphics that are at the correct resolution for the medium on which you present them.

If you project your charts on a large screen in a stadium setting, do they have enough pixels to stay sharp and readable? If you create pie charts that rely on color to show the section breakdown, is your audience seeing them on a black-and-white paper? Doing a dry run of your presentation can help you discover any major issues to correct before you go live.


6. Use the Right Chart

Pie charts and bar graphs are popular methods for data presentation because they are easy to read and familiar to most audiences. If you have several sets of numbers to compare, though, a table may be more appropriate and less confusing. Line graphs are helpful in showing a progressive rise or decline. If you're presenting geographical data, a map might help your audience more than listing cities or countries in text form. Whatever type of chart you choose, be sure it's the one that makes your data easy to understand.


7. Use Text Sparingly

You can't avoid using text with your data, nor should you. In fact, you can use text strategically to highlight a main point. Focus on an important area and use text to go into detail about the meaning of your data. In other areas, though, avoid being too wordy and size your text smaller than graphs and numbers. This technique will keep your audience focused on the data.


When you've spent a lot of time preparing for a presentation, you want to be sure your audience understands what you have to say. Data presented in a clear, easy-to-follow format can help others get the point.


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