Clear as Mud – Tips to Develop Presentations that Work

By: Sandy Swanson

I just got a new laptop. My Dell was four years old, but the gray hairs were starting to show. I now have a new laptop that weighs 2 pounds and I love it. As part of this process, I transferred and archived old documents and files stored on my laptop, and came across a cartoon I clipped out of The New Yorker a few years ago (see photo below). It made me chuckle again as it did when I first saw it—a man presenting an elaborate chart asking the audience to let the information sink in.

I think consultants do this to clients all the time—show charts and graphs depicting gobs of data, expecting clients to understand and the results to be crystal clear. Sometimes it is clear alright—clear as mud.

My world as a consultant is all about interpreting data: Market trends, customer data, survey results, and demographics, among others. But what does it all mean and how do we help our clients interpret results into something meaningful?

At OrangeBoy, we are constantly trying to find new and better ways to interpret data so it is easily understood by our clients. Some days we’re more successful than others are, but over the years, I have learned a few tactics that have been helpful. Here are a few tips I try to employ:

  • Pick one thing.  Instead of showing multiple data points on a chart, pick the one thing that is most compelling and focus on that. Your presentation should tell a story. Choose the data points for each chart that help you tell that story.
  • Edit.  More is not better in all cases.  Sure, we have all been guilty of building 100-slide decks, but I’m not proud of that.  Get the scissors out and cut, cut, cut!
  • Take time to digest the information.  Sometimes a situation is complex and it takes some time to really think about what the data is telling you.
  • Use images and words.  Words are good, words with images are better.  What’s the old saying?  A picture is worth a 1,000 words.
  • Narrate. Presentations are best delivered in person. Give your data added shelf life by providing speaker notes to your client to share with others. Better yet, provide an audio recording to accompany slides so others who were not in the presentation can have a similar experience. We have found the slideshare.net product to be a helpful tool.
  • Explain it to your mother. I once saw a cancer researcher present his work.  He said he always tried to explain his research as if he were talking to his mother.  In other words, lose the jargon and simplify the message.

I taped this cartoon to my desk.  It’s a good reminder to remember my own advice.  Good luck with your own data interpretation, and be sure to share your own tips with others below.

©OrangeBoy, Inc. 2012

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