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stop making these dumb data presentation mistakes


This list goes out to every data syndicator, every business analyst, every trend master, and every ABM in the land! If you present data in charts in power point -- this is for you.

I review a lot of data charts and slides. A key part of my job as a brand strategy consultant is to understand the state of the brand in order to inform the direction. So I review a LOT of data, all the time.

Ok I sound like I'm complaining but, actually, I love it. I love looking at data and charts and am in love with pivot tables! As my dad says, "Gustos son gustos, decia una mujer que comia jabon" - meaning, "To each his own, said a woman who ate soap". Ha!

While I could go on and on about what you should do with data - as many others already have, and, well, who am I kidding, I probably will do in another post - there are just as many things you should never ever do with data. Ok, truth is that many have written about this too! Nevertheless, let's address some of the smallest yet most irritating "don'ts".

But first, let's agree that you shouldn't make me work hard to understand your point.

As a deck-writer, your most important job is to make it easy for your audience to follow your story.

Make it fluid and effortless to follow you from slide to slide. These seemingly innocent, yet silly mistakes do the exact opposite. They can have a big impact on the audience's ability to track with what's important.

Now, I know what you're going to say after you read this.

"This is the stupidest list ever. This stuff is so basic."

And I agree. And yet, I see these things happen all the time. It's driving me mad!

Please help me spread the word so none of us have to suffer this injustice again! Ok, injustice is a strong word, but hey, I'm a very passionate person! Or maybe it's just me? Read on and let me know if you disagree....

The top 3 dumb data presentation mistakes

1. Data charts who's colors are not coordinated throughout the deck

Seriously, I could end this commentary right here. Nothing is more frustrating than having to relearn which data point is which. If on slide 2 my brand is in green, then my brand should be in green across the entire deck. Pretty simple, no?

Otherwise, every time we look at a new slide I have to spend the first 30 seconds just trying to understand what I'm looking at and what I care about. Thirty seconds seems small, but over 15 slides when you only have 30 mins to a meeting -- it adds up. Nevermind when you try to flip back to a previous slide to compare info -- minutes evaporate before your very eyes!

Consistency in colors is a small thing but can be a gigantic annoyance and time suck.

2. Irrelevant nonsense on charts

It is rare that the Excel or Powerpoint stock formatting options for charts are the right choice for your presentation. Selecting them without further editing is LAZY. Make sure everything you're using serves a real purpose.

Do I really need the lines behind the bars? Can you simplify the time measures so they are just month and year vs. showing a 30 character name which makes the font a size 8? Do you really need a data label at each data point?

Go for a clean, simple look and you won't go wrong. Check out these SPECTACULAR Hubspot tips and remember: Less is always more! (Except for when it's not.)

3. Unnecessary and overwhelming copy

I HATE too much stuff on a slide. It makes it so much more difficult to focus on what's important. I don't need to know the time-frame in the headline, the chart title, and in the source. More words do not equal more value. Especially in a data slide.

Decide where the time frame belongs -- depending on the data it is more or less important -- and give it a proper place. Then be consistent across the deck. I'm picking on time frame as an example, but this applies to any copy in your headline, sub headline, chart headline, text boxes, conclusion box, source box, footer -- the list goes on! Don't repeat everything I see in the data -- I can read that for myself, especially if you make it easy for me to digest.

Be discerning with your words and write just enough to help you make your point. Nothing more.

Otherwise, write an article. Like me. :)

BONUS: Not offering up the obvious questions

Sometimes there are obvious questions that pop up off a chart and scream at you, and yet presenters are so eager to get the data out there and done they don't even ask themselves these questions. And truthfully, this is as critical as "looking the right time frames" and "keeping the data focused on the question we're answering". That is not a dumb thing -- it is a whole other level of wrong that should get you kicked out of the room.

However, sometimes the presenter has, in fact, asked themselves the question but then does not share the thought with the audience. Now, that is dumb. You already had the thought? Why hold it back from us?

If you have a chart that shows a major change and you're wondering why... well, then go ahead and try to figure out why. If that isn't possible for whatever reason, then jot down a hypotheses or two to guide a discussion or list your next steps to determine the cause. Either way, if a question is that obvious, don't make ME ask why just so you can say "oh yes, I was wondering that too." [Insert blank stare.]

Aaah. Now that I've got that all out, I feel much better!

So... Do you agree with me on these annoyingly dumb data presentation mistakes? Or do you have your own list?

- KG


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