Need to present some data? About the best way you can do that is to use a data visualisation.
Most often, a dataviz is simply a chart. But you might choose to use something less mainstream, like a heatmap.
Whatever type of dataviz you choose, I suggest you use this 3‑step method for making your dataviz more effective:
(You’ll find step 1 in my previous post, and steps 2 and 3 below.)
Step 2: Satisfy their cravingsScroll to Contents ↑
This step contains 3 tips designed to make it easy to apply (and labelled A, B and C).
Here’s what you’ll find in this section:
Why this step?Scroll to Contents ↑
Consciously or subconsciously, your audience reacts to every presentation, dashboard or report by craving answers to those 3 pressing questions (A, B and C above).
In fact, even before you open your mouth (or before people open your dashboard or report), they ask themselves that first question:
“What’s in it for me?”
Make crystal clear what’s in it for them – from the start
That pre-emptive question suggests that to stop people mentally tuning out, you should make crystal clear what’s in it for them – from the start.
Don’t worry though, the table below gives you specific points (and tips) to help you share your data well:
- Those 3 pressing questions audiences wonder about (and when people wonder)
- Another way of expressing each question, as 2 of them are quite terse
- Tips on how you can satisfy these cravings for answers – with links to more details
Tips to respond to pressing questions A, B and CScroll to Contents ↑
|People wonder…||In other words…||Tips – what can you do?|
|A: “What’s in it for me?”
(at the start)
|“Why should I listen?“||
|B: “So what?”
(for each chart)
|“So why should I care?”||State your point|
|C: “Now what?”
(when about to depart)
|“Now what should I do?”||Call them to action|
* In a business, tying your message to the company’s strategy or values is a great way to let people know what’s in it for them and their team.
More about responding to “So what?”Scroll to Contents ↑
Let’s focus on row B of that table, which deals with charts (and where the related audience question is “So what?”). I agree with presentation expert Jean-Luc Doumont, who says about that:
“My strongest recommendation
about the design of slides would be:
Express the ‘So what’ – what’s your point?”
To do that well, you can show a title or caption that makes a claim. As an example, the 1-minute clip below shows a slide makeover, and the much-improved slide title explains the point that the speaker wanted the audience to take away from the chart:
Step 3: Storify your messageScroll to Contents ↑
Why this step?Scroll to Contents ↑
Think of it as guiding people on a mental journey
When I suggest you “storify” your message, I just mean to overlay some kind of narrative or story on it. You might prefer to think of it as guiding your audience on a mental journey.
Here’s how Stephen Few, author of 3 books on dataviz, puts it:
“When we create a graph, we design it to tell a story.
To do this, we must first figure out what the story is”
You’ve probably heard that humans are wired for stories, which brings 4 key benefits:
- Stories draw people in by making your content more “magnetic“.
- When you’re sharing data, stories make your message more varied or “melodic“.
- They help us see data as being more meaningful.
- They make your message much more memorable.
To you, this might seem unnatural, misguided, or just plain wrong!
But to you, this might seem unnatural, misguided, or just plain wrong! So, before we get into the tips for this step, let’s hear from 2 experts on why using story is so potent…
Firstly, here’s Scott Berinato (author of Good Charts: The HBR Guide to Making Smarter, More Persuasive Data Visualizations) in a 20‑second clip on the power of story:
After he stops speaking, you might want to pause the clip (and close the More videos panel). That way, you can read his slide about the 3-part story structure he recommends.
And secondly, here’s Nancy Duarte (author of DataStory and the HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations) explaining the benefits of story in 40 seconds:
Despite all that, if you’re still unsure about using stories, I’ve some good news for you. That is, you mightn’t think of the first 2 “storifying” tips below as even being storytelling, which might make them more palatable… 🙂
3A: Use takeaways (not topics) for titlesScroll to Contents ↑
For your slide titles (or the section titles in a written report), I strongly recommend you use “takeaways” not “topics”. To see why, and what I mean by those 2 terms, let’s look at an example…
Title each slide with the key point you want people to
Suppose you’re presenting data to town planners about the benefits of green roofs (rooftop gardens) in urban areas. About the best way you can title each slide is with the key point you want people to take away from the slide – its takeaway. (You can also think of a takeaway as being a statement or assertion of the slide’s main message.)
In this example, one of your slide titles might be this takeaway:
Green roofs cool down rooftops – drastically
In contrast, if you used a topic as that slide’s title, it might be just something like:
The effect of green roofs
Notice this vital difference between those 2 types of titles:
- Takeaways include an action (a verb), so they have life.
- Topics are just labels, with no verbs, so they feel lifeless.
Takeaways engage your audience, and stimulate healthy discussion
Takeaways make your message clearer, too, since they explicitly state your viewpoint. They also engage your audience, and stimulate healthy discussion, because people feel prompted to either agree or disagree with the viewpoint you share.
Crucially, when read in sequence, they even form a logical flow, which leads people from your talk’s opening to your conclusion or next steps.
This way of titling each slide is often paired with using visual evidence on the slide (like a chart, diagram, or photo) – rather than bullets or text. (So it’s ideal when you share data visualisations.) And because each takeaway forms an assertion, this method’s often called the assertion-evidence approach.
Check out this 1-minute video where Professor Michael Alley describes more of this approach’s benefits over using topic phrases for your slide titles:
He often calls takeaways “messages”, and he uses a much longer version of the takeaway about green roofs: “Research shows that green roofs are effective at lowering roof temperatures of buildings”.
3B: Use builds (or captions)Scroll to Contents ↑
This tip has 2 parts, according to whether you’re sharing data either:
- Dynamically (in a presentation or animation) – when you use builds
- Or statically (in a written report) – when you use captions
If you’re sharing data dynamically in a presentation, you can make your dataviz appear in stages as you explain it (also known as using builds). To do that, you can use the Animations tab in PowerPoint to add very subtle effects (typically a quick Fade).
Let’s see 2 examples. Here’s a 20-second clip from Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic (author of Storytelling With Data):
And here’s Scott Berinato in a 1-minute clip:Scroll to Contents ↑
If you’re sharing data statically, in a report, you can use captions to walk your readers through your data story. For instance, here’s a 20-second video of Cole Knaflic again, showing how that might look:
3C: Make it personalScroll to Contents ↑
When I say “make it personal”, I mean whenever possible mention 1 or more real people affected by the data you’re sharing. That really helps your audience to form an emotional connection to your message, which in turn stirs them to act.
As former president of the National Speakers’ Association, Patricia Fripp says:
“Logic makes us think;
emotion makes us act”
As an example, in the 1-minute video below of an animated dataviz about gun-related deaths in the U.S., each arc represents the life of a specific person killed by gunfire:
While the video’s playing, you might want to click the Full screen button so you can see the text and other details in the dataviz.
You can try out that interactive dataviz yourself, which now has more recent data. (Thanks to Michael Freeman for sharing the link in his 90-minute video-based course, Using Storytelling to Effectively Communicate Data, which you can watch for free.)
Over to youScroll to Contents ↑
As a reminder, here are the main points in this post:
2. Satisfy their cravings
3. Storify your message
If you’ve any queries or comments about the points shared in this post, feel free to leave a comment below, or on social media.
All the best with your dataviz – you’ll rock!
Also check outScroll to Contents ↑
- Do your talks’ titles bore people? Use “ABCD” headlines to grab attention
- Start strong – 3 gripping ways to open your talk
- Want your talk ranked #1? Make it conversational – here’s how…
- Answer people’s key question – which they never ask!
- Make your slide explain “So what?” – Secret #13 of star presenters
- Be the spark! Ignite ACTion with your talk (F!RST framework – part 2)
- Today’s most popular posts, and the latest visitor comments
This is an excellent breakdown of how to make a presentation compelling – story is so important! My number one recommendation in presentation design is first building emotion, interest, and engagement about the subject at hand through the “So What”. Then channeling that energy into an effective call to action (“Now What”). With those two hand-in-hand, just as you described, a presentation becomes a springboard for progress and transformation.
Thanks Christopher! Yes, even with data (perhaps especially so), integrating storytelling elements makes a huge difference.
Great follow-up to the first post (simplify) with excellent examples. I will be coming back to this post. Thanks for putting it up, Craig.
Really glad it’s useful. Thanks John!