How to present data without sending your audience to sleep

7 minutes
Written by: Natalia De la Peña Frade

To present data successfully, as with any other type of communication, we need to think about the audience. Need to make a report? Communicating information in a visually-appealing way makes the difference between successfully communicating the ideas and having a full-blown yawning crisis on your hands.

Avoid death by PowerPoint

You may or may not be familiar with the expression ‘Death by PowerPoint’. Yes, it exists. It refers to the effect that information overload has on people attending a presentation created with this and other similar tools.

There is even a book with that title: ‘How to avoid death by PowerPoint’. The author of this book, David JP Phillips, gave a Ted Talk in 2014, around the same time as Genially was coming into being. In his presentation, Phillips mentions this quote by the celebrated American biologist John Medina:

‘If companies had as little respect for business as they have for presentations, the majority would go bankrupt.’ 

Are you now thinking about times you’ve fallen victim to boring presentations and reports with thousands of slides loaded with text, graphs, and numbers? If so, you’re probably thinking the same thing as I am: Medina is right. In some reporting meetings, all our efforts go into not falling asleep, and we try and prepare ourselves for the impending snoozefest by drinking 3 strong coffees. Will we understand the tidal wave of data we see on the screen? Plenty of us have given up even trying.

Going back to Phillips’ Ted Talk: many things have changed since 2014, but some are still the same. For example, his claim that people usually focus on colors, movement, large objects, and contrasts is still true. And, people are still creating boring presentations.

The most important change in this sense is that now, Genially exists.

Are you the one who has to create the presentation? I’ll tell you how you can use Genially to make the most of people’s  visual nature and engage your audience when presenting your data.

We’ll also look at a few things about attention which will help you make your data presentations irresistible. Less coffee and more Genially!

5 best practices for presenting data successfully

  1. It needs to be VERY visual, especially if you’re going to present it

Using interactivity allows you to make your content as visual as you’d like. Reduce the text as much as possible so that the information is processed visually, and add a second layer of information in the interactive elements.

Here’s a very clear case of a presentation which could benefit from interactivity. The slide you’ll see below is part of Facebook’s results presentation to their investors each trimester. It’s 100% real and was also sent to the press and specialized media.

Displaying so much information at once is overwhelming. People don’t know what to focus on and it’s very easy to get lost in all those numbers. Why not display them in an interactive timeline? It could look something like this:

Think the illustrated style doesn’t quite fit your company? Personalize the background with your own images or your brand’s corporate colors. Make it your own!

If you need to report data from different locations, you can use an interactive map like the one below. It’s ideal for data visualization.

This design will work great whether you’re emailing your presentation or projecting it in a meeting.

There’s something we often forget when presenting data: we can’t read and listen at the same time. If you project a slide with tons of numbers, people will try to read it instead of listening to you. The result? Later they won’t remember one thing or the other.

The function of the visual presentation is to serve as a support to what you’re saying, to complement it. But, the idea is that they receive the information from you rather than reading it from the slide.

If you project the timeline or map on a screen, people will process the visual information in a few seconds, and you can show the rest of the information gradually. This way you make sure the information displays at the optimum moment as you’re explaining it.

On the other hand, if you’re sending your presentation, whoever receives it will click through it to discover the information at their own pace.

  1. Colors, movement, contrast, and large objects attract attention

It’s quite obvious, really: our gaze tends to go where we perceive movement. In Genially it’s super easy to add animations to the data you include in your presentations. If you start out with a template, you’ll already have animations set up which you can edit however you like.

Another way of displaying the table of data above could be something like this:

Animation is very effective at getting people’s attention. It’s actually hard to keep your eyes off something that’s moving, it’s instinct. Contrasting colors help focus people’s attention on the part of the screen you want.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: 23 TYPES OF INTERACTIVE GRAPHS

  1. Organize your slides according to neuroscience

Science has proven that we skim presentation slides in a certain order. What attracts us most is the top, first the left part and then the right. Then we skim the rest of the information from left to right and top to bottom.

What’s at the top of almost all the presentations ever made? A title. Wasted opportunity!

We put titles at the top because we’re just reproducing the structure we’ve always seen, in offline writing. Of course, the title is always at the top of the page. Using the same old structure has its advantages, because people expect it, and this promotes comprehension.

To take full advantage of the part of the slide that receives the most attention, do not write a superfluous title; write a headline that summarizes the most important information contained on the slide. Like in the newspapers! That way you’ll make the most of the place people’s attention goes to naturally.

In the example slide, it would look something like this:

If it’s impossible for you to summarize all the slide’s content in less than 10 words, think about the key word or concept you want people to remember about the data you’re presenting. Or you could opt for no title at all, or maybe put it somewhere less prominent.

  1. Black text on a white background?

Another legacy from paper writing. Writing black text on a white background facilitates reading, yes, but that’s just what we don’t want: for your audience to read the information. The idea is that they focus their attention on your words.

Contrasts, as we’ve mentioned, help focus attention. You’ve seen how they do it in the theatre when someone important is about to make an entrance; all in darkness and a spotlight where the protagonist is standing.

You can do the same with your presentation: display the data on a dark background and illuminate the area you want to be the protagonist using bright colors. If you show the information gradually, you’ll avoid spoilers too.

  1. Surprise and excite

Neuroscience tells us that unusual or emotionally-charged stimuli attract much more attention. Why not put a fun meme or GIF that your audience doesn’t expect? Or appeal to people’s emotions? As long as the occasion and the environment allow, of course.

In the right environment, fun GIFs work very well: I’m speaking from experience, as they make frequent appearances in our reporting meetings here at Genially. They let us take a break for a few seconds from all the data, and also to make the atmosphere more relaxed.

If you’re lucky enough to be part of an environment where these kinds of resources are welcome, you’ll notice they help you connect with your audience. And, a little break is always a good idea to take a quick breather, get some feedback, or whatever the moment calls for.

As for emotions, this is a little more complicated, because not everyone gets excited about the same things. Photos of babies, cats, or dogs work well for most people.

In the Editor in Genially, you’ve got integrated access to GIPHY and the free image bank Pixabay, as well as Genially’s image library. You’ll find suitable resources in seconds.

So, after seeing these examples, what are you going to do when you have to present data? Don’t fall back into old habits! I’ll leave you with some Genially templates which will help you to put all these recommendations into practice. Make sure your audience never gets bored again when you’re presenting data!

5 great templates for presenting data

Corporate dashboard: 

Try it out!

Data video presentation:

Create a video presentation

Survey results:

I want to make one like that!

Graph dashboard:

Use this template

Digital marketing dashboard:

Start creating

Natalia De la Peña Frade
Natalia De la Peña Frade
Content creator: I try to write things you like to read
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