For some, numbers are great: they see them, they get the picture, they move on. For lots of us, though, (myself included) numbers are impenetrable, they give the building blocks from which I need to build a story, in order to have any idea what’s going on.
Whether it’s the results of research, or extracting metrics from a database, clients often come to us to convert their numbers into an easy to understand presentation for them to absorb and share around their business. This doesn’t need to be an overwhelming and daunting task – and if you’re faced with the same task, you can use these top tips to help!
1 – Consider your audience
It is possible that you will be presenting to at least one stakeholder that knows the data (almost) as much as you. But it is also likely that you will be presenting to some stakeholders who have less of an idea – and then, going forward, this presentation could even be shared amongst some who have no idea. The presentation has to make sense to all three of these groups – so make the presentation simple, clear and easy to follow with only as much detail as necessary.
2 – Take time to understand what the client wants to see
Clients are often busy and give you the impression they just want you to “put something together”. This can lead to a lot of wasted work when the client realises what you have produced is not quite what they had in mind. Take time at the beginning of the project to understand their objectives, who they will be sharing the information with, and what they have found interesting or worrying. Once you have this information produce a skeleton for them to approve before investing too much time.
3 – Set the scene
We have already established that there will probably be some stakeholders who have a very limited understanding of the data project you have carried out (if any at all). Like all good plays, set the scene at the beginning – objectives, data sets, sample size used and so on – to bring everyone up to speed quickly in one slide.
4 – Include an executive summary at the beginning
In an ideal world all stakeholders would take the time to read through your entire presentation and appreciate the work you have done. Disappointingly, this won’t always be the case. There will be some who want to spend no more than a minute or two understanding the key take outs. Make life easy for them and put an executive summary (summary, key take outs, or key learnings – whatever term you prefer) after your scene setting.
5 – An appendix is a good home for your surplus slides
Right at the beginning we want scene setting and an executive summary – at the other end of the deck you will want an appendix. This can house all the slides you produce that might be of use to the client but you don’t want to include in the main flow. So if you find yourself being repetitive in the deck, or you have produced slides that contain information that is useful but not of particular interest – pop them at the back.
6 – Every chart has insight – so put this in the headline
We want to reduce the amount of effort for the stakeholders when they look at a slide. We don’t want them to have to work out what the chart is saying. So put the main take out in the headline of the slide. Instead of the headline saying “Comparing the popularity of chocolate bars”, it could say “Dark chocolate bars lead the field when it comes to popularity”. It is then up to the stakeholder to decide if they want to see how that is backed up in the chart – or move on.
7- Pause between sections
You will know the presentation inside out by the time you share it. However, for those seeing it for the first time it will be a lot of information to take in. Use section title slides wisely – they are a great tool for allowing the audience to pause, take stock of what they have just seen and understand what they are about to see.
8 – Be clear about when caution needs to be exercised
Do any of your slides have you saying in your head:
“This chart shows x, but the numbers are low so I’m not sure if we can really say……….”.
Time to be honest about this. It’s just how the data has fallen. Consider whether you really need to include the slide at all – and if you do, make absolutely clear on the slide that caution needs to be exercised.
9 – Get feedback on your flow before sharing with stakeholders
Practice talking through your presentation with a friendly colleague before you share with stakeholders. Does the order make sense? Is anything confusing? Is it getting repetitive? All these issues can be ironed out before you share it with clients. I personally like to print out the slides beforehand and lay them out on the floor, to make reordering them easy.
10 – Finally, trust your instinct!
If there is something niggling you about your presentation – don’t ignore it. Whether it is some doubt over the figures, a slide you find difficult to explain or a change of subject that feels clunky – change it. If you feel awkward about something – you won’t feel comfortable when sharing your great work!
These have been my top tips for presenting data to clients. Following these should allow your data to be more easily absorbed – by even those clients with limited data experience (or interest!).