With data volumes growing 50 times in the last decade, using visualisation to present information effectively has become a critical skill. If your staff lack this skill, they will drift like flotsam on a sea of big data. Your company will lose its message in the noise; the digital age will leave you behind; and careers will stagnate.
Learning how to present data using visualisation will help turn excellent technicians into leaders, by enabling them to tell your company’s story compellingly and share their brilliance.
Numbers, numbers, numbers. Detail, detail, detail. Most people in technical roles are, rightly, trained to excel in these areas. The problem is that this detail then tends to dominate the way they communicate.
Being brilliant with data manipulation will not get you far if you cannot communicate concisely and powerfully. Visualisation is a key factor in this communication because our brains’ visual processes work many times faster than their speech and language systems – for essential evolutionary reasons.
Including reams of unillustrated numbers in a presentation therefore sends your audience to sleep. Or, if they are a more technical crowd, they get side-tracked into analysing or arguing about less relevant details. Either way, your presentation lasts much longer than necessary, your report goes unread, and your key messages are diluted or lost.
We see this often in Capital City Training’s financial course ‘Data statistics in business’. A typical example is when we ask delegates to present some data to help board members decide whether to sell a business.
They often include lots of figures about revenue multiples. This encourages the audience to focus on details rather than the main decision, which is whether to sell the business or not? A typical result would be that the presentation takes one hour when it could have taken 15 minutes; or worse, the company makes the wrong decision.
Imagine how much time companies waste in meetings every day because their people cannot communicate concisely and effectively. Studies show it is a huge amount. But I won’t bore you with the statistics.
Good data visualisation practices
In the data age, your company must develop a culture of good storytelling. The first rule of storytelling is: show don’t tell.
This is because visualisation has a chemical effect that wakes the brain up and brings it alive with emotions. So use visual information to grab their attention from the start of your report or presentation. Then use the same visual skills to answer ‘so what?’ and ‘now what?’
Contrary to what you might see in geeky online discussions about data visualisation, your visuals do not need to be flashy. Simpler is often better. Mainstream software such as Microsoft Excel, Word and PowerPoint all contain great visualisation tools. A carefully chosen bar chart, line graph, waterfall graph, or even pie chart is often enough to give your message the right visual punch.
Present your data in context, or you will lose half the story. This could be as simple as comparing sales performance to sector average; or sales with costs to show profit growth as in our graphic below.
Keep it short. If you have spent a long time crunching data, you may be tempted to include it all – but most of your audience do not care. Anyone who does can find it in the appendix, ask you a question, or ask you to send it to them.
Brilliant visual presenters also consider:
- who is my audience?
- what decisions must they make?
- what images will grab their attention?
- how to help them decide quickly and easily
- how to condense information and tell a compelling story.
No more death by PowerPoint
Data visualisation is relevant to all business sectors, roles and functions – including marketing, finance, HR, operations, logistics, accounting and technology.
Our ‘Data statistics in business’ course offers a module on data visualisation to help delegates master this art and avoid ‘death by PowerPoint’ with misleading, confusing or impenetrable data.
The course provides a practical, fun, accessible guide to presenting data engagingly and compellingly. It teaches a logical process for doing this, and includes a presentation exercise to apply your learning.
The module explains how to visually:
- summarise and describe data effectively
- use descriptors, charts and tables in Excel
- interpret location, dispersion and skew
- compare ‘unlike’ units
It also looks at how to choose better visual designs; build in road signs; and draw the eye. These techniques will help people remember your message and make better decisions – with their hearts and heads.
The ‘Data statistics in business’ course also has modules tackling a wide range of other issues, including:
- key statistical measures and how they work
- turning statistical sampling and inference techniques into compelling arguments
- a framework for questioning data sources and interpretation
- spotting and avoiding statistical errors and behavioural biases
- more on how to communicate data persuasively.
Share your brilliance
We find technicians rarely recognise the need to learn these skills themselves, which can lead to frustration for them and their employers. Their managers need to encourage and put them forward for training and emphasise that this is not about finding weaknesses but communicating strengths, and gaining the impact and recognition they deserve.
Data visualisation skills will help your people stimulate others’ emotions to tell your company’s story, share their brilliance, and reach their potential. Your meetings and reports will suddenly become short, exciting and effective; and your company will be a dramatically more efficient and fun place to work.
If you’d like to find out more about our data and statistics course, or speak to our training team, then please do contact us here.