Presenting and Explaining Data in PowerPoint

In an earlier post, I discussed the skills and knowledge which every presenter needs. I talked about the importance of visual and verbal ‘channels’ for speakers, and suggested that the visual leads our audiences’ response to us, and the verbal only really confirms or denies the impression that we and our images make.

How to apply this when presenting and explaining data

Data slides are important because they are most often used as evidence to support our thesis. They’re the proof of the pudding.  Last year’s sales, next year’s forecast, market testing and the like; so it’s really important that we use them well and that the visual representation of that data is simple, powerful and clear. If we mess up the evidence, the prisoner goes free.

The problem with presenting data when presenting – whether on PowerPoint, Prezi, or some other software is twofold: how do we make it look good? And how to we help our audience to understand it?

There are many different graph types to choose from but which design to use and when?  The important point to remember is to decide first what point you want to make and then:


Try Stephen Few of Perceptual Edge’s Graph Design I.Q. Test which very neatly illustrates it.

It will only take a minute but will help you see quite clearly how one design is better than another, depending on the message you are trying to convey.

As a rule of thumb:


To show percentages.  Try to limit to six slices max.  Use colour for emphasis
VERTICAL BAR CHARTS Changes in quantity over time.  Best to limit to about 8 bars
HORIZONTAL BAR CHARTS Use to compare quantities
LINE CHARTS To demonstrate trends.  Useful for large quantities of data

For side by side comparison (though you may want to consider a bar chart to emphasis a particularly favourable comparison!)

And most of all, don’t be guilty of cramming in too much unformation.

For more of Rosie’s hints and tips, see here.



Rosie Hoyland
Rosie is a writer and content creator and has worked for many years as a print and digital designer for The Message Business. When she’s not creating fantastic resources for our trainers and clients, she shares her presentation design wisdom here on the blog and over at Presentation Guru.
Rosie Hoyland
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  1. Pingback: Why not go naked? Drop your PowerPoint pants? Are you mad?

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