isuals can make or break a presentation, proposal or other business document. To do the job, your visuals should support your message-whether it’s in a document or in a presentation.
Sometimes the support will be more conceptual-key strategic factors, change in trends, geographic differences. Other times, the visuals will be quantitative or data-driven such as market share, revenue growth, and regional numbers.
Data driven charts allow the audience to perceive your message at a glance rather than puzzling over a list or table of data. Furthermore, it is easier (and more persuasive) for the audience to see trends and comparisons on a chart than to calculate them from the raw data. With your chart as support, you can then speak to your conclusions, insights and recommendations-your message.
Four types of chart can cover most data visualization tasks-the pie (and its cousin the relative value chart), the vertical bar chart, the horizontal bar chart and the line chart.
The right chart depends on the message
As with any presentation or document, you must first understand the message you wish to convey. After that, you can choose the right data set and choose the right chart. The last step is to make your chart both visually compelling and quickly digestible by your audience.
In general, one of biggest mistakes in creating graphics for a presentation or document is using the wrong visual for your message. This is especially true when presenting data-the wrong chart only serves to confuse the audience or reader.
From message to data to chart
If your message is about share or distribution of a total, a pie chart or relative value chart is appropriate. If you are comparing shares from different categories, then a stacked bar chart works better than multiple pie charts.
If your message is about a comparison of values, the bar chart is the most appropriate chart. Again, if you have multiple categories, such as years or product lines, a grouped bar chart or a pairing of bar charts work best.
If you message is about a trend over time, the line chart not only shows the values but also gives a visual feel for the rates of change. To show values from discrete time frames, such as sales total per quarter, a vertical bar chart may work better than a line.
Charts created for frequency distributions and correlations will use line and vertical bar charts.
You’ve got your message, your data and the right chart type. But how do you make it persuasive and memorable?
First, consider incorporating images into your charts. Image Charts are not only eye-catching and memorable, but also help your audience grasp quantities and relative values quickly.
When not using an Image Chart, you can still follow some guidelines to make sure the chart supports your message as strongly as possible. Use color (and lack of color) to compare, contrast and highlight the part of the picture that aligns with your message. Don’t clutter your chart with too many gridlines, data labels and axis labels. Only show what is needed to draw the viewer to your message.
Hopefully, this overview has you thinking about how to better present your data. For more detailed guidelines, download the white paper here.