Aug 7, 2009

How to present information and not just data

Last week I happened to see a presentation which a senior manager regularly delivers when he inducts new employees into his organization.

The data was impressive. The organization has grown many folds over the last three decades in terms of number of people. Starting from 5 in 1979 the head count now stands at 8420! A remarkable growth. Here is the data which I culled out from the slide (the numbers have been modified slightly to maintain confidentiality):

Now the question is, how do you present this 'data' so that it excites the new employees. If your objective is to wow them, then you need to present this data in an interesting manner.

How about trying something like this?

Is this not the most obvious choice? Yes, it is. Now try to deliver the above slide. Loud and clear, as if you were making the presentation in reality.

"Friends, we started in 1979 with a team of 5 and today we are at 8420! Isn't that something great?"

Yes, that's great. But it can be better.

How about improving it further?

Improving it further by coming out of the 'data trap' and sharing some 'information'. Most presenters are victims of 'data traps'. They end up sharing just data in one form or the other. You use a table or a bar, you are still presenting 'data' not information.

Information is when you crunch data and cull out something more meaningful (an insight). Here is a slide which tries to present some useful information:

Is it better to say we grew from 5 to 8420 or is it better to say we added 2 member per day for the last decade?The magnanimity of the situation is better depicted by the latter.

You can observe in the slide above that the chart is not to scale (hence the axes has been removed). The reason is; it need not be. The objective is to present useful information and not become a captive of your chart.

To summarize I would like to make two points.

1. There is no need to present each and every data point you have. If you can choose a few data points and deliver a message more strongly, do that.

2. The next time you present a chart/graph, ask yourself this question; "Am I presenting some useful information or mere data?"