Presenting Data With Slides? Keep It Interesting!


keep-presentation-slides-simpleWhen you’re excited about something, nothing could make it boring for you. You want to hear about it, read about it, and talk about it. You’re living the topic. And when you’ve done any kind of research to mine data, you’re excited to share those findings with other people.

Let it be known, then, that very few things will lull your audience into a boredom-induced sleep (or at least a trance-like daydream) than boring slides.

You could have the most interesting data to present. You might have a charismatic stage presence. All of it could be undone in a second with a bad slide presentation. It’s like putting on white athletic socks and blue shoes to go with your expensive, hand-tailored black suit. It’s a small detail, maybe, but if it’s all wrong, it’s really all wrong.

Let’s look at some common slide blunders to help us understand the mistakes we’re making and why it’s important to rectify those situations so that the focus and interest remains on our data.

#1. Too much information on one slide.

Much like they want to do with blog posts and other online content, your audience wants to skim and scan. As you talk about your data and give more details about its relevance to them, they can take notes to supplement shorter bullet points and informational highlights with the information they feel would be most relevant to their purposes, so don’t feel the need to drill down on every minute detail.

Also keep in mind that the more time they spend reading your slides, the less time they spend listening to what you have to say – and then your charismatic stage presence doesn’t make much of a difference. Keep that font size pretty large so that you can’t overcrowd your slides and you’re already making strides toward getting more attention on your data.

#2. Painful color schemes.

There are some color combinations that you just shouldn’t do. Yes, your company colors might be white and yellow, and on your logo, that might look great. But when someone is trying to read white on a yellow background (or vice versa), they’re not going to last very long before giving up. This also holds true for other really bright colors, and just about anything on black (yes, even white). A black background is going to bug out your audience’s eyes. If their eyes get tired, they get sleepy, and they stop listening.

Keep your color schemes simple, tasteful, and easy to read.

#3. Moving through the slides too quickly.

Sometimes presenters have a tendency to speed through the information at hand. If you’re presenting data, keep in mind that many (if not all) of the numbers and figures might be easier for you to comprehend than they are for your audience.

Aside from the obvious – moving through the slides too quickly means that people don’t have enough time to read them, even if they are short and able to be skimmed and scanned – moving through the slides too quickly means that you’re not focused on making sure your audience understands the data. If they don’t understand it, they can’t possibly fathom its impact or anything it might imply.

Next time you’re presenting data, slow down. Explain everything well – just because it seems obvious and simple to you doesn’t mean that it will to everyone present. Take the time to invite questions and get everyone on the same page.

#4: Not varying slide content.

Everyone has a way in which he or she best processes new information. For some people, it’s visual. Others are auditory learners.

So many terrible slide shows consist of title, text, title, text, title, text. It becomes monotonous and the audience loses interest – fast. For the ones who do well by listening and reading, they might hang on a bit longer than the others, but ultimately, you need to be trying to appeal to everyone.

Include images, charts, videos, and other supplemental information that will help your audience to understand the data and its importance. Numbers can be very dry for a lot of people, so the more you’re able to make your data presentation a work of “educational info-tainmen,” the better you’ll hold their attention and the more memorable your data will be.

And when your data is memorable, it’s used and shared. This helps to build up not only your name, but trust in the work that you do, which could potentially lead to further opportunities in the future.

#5: Having too many slides.

Again, you have to remember here that numbers can baffle people. Data can be confusing – if it didn’t require any kind of explanation or elaboration, you wouldn’t need to present it.

If you include too many slides, your audience is going to feel overwhelmed with information (especially if you have 127 slides that are all overcrowded with text… and especially if those are all information slides that are impossible to read because of the loud color schemes). If the audience feels overwhelmed, they shut down.

The absolute last thing you want is to be presenting your data to people who could really use it and have them shut down. Failure to process. Does not compute.

It spells trouble. If your data is used, there’s a good chance it will be misused or that you will be misquoted or misunderstood (or any other mis- that leads to frustration).

To prevent your audience from being overwhelmed from the start (or from about forty-five minutes into the presentation), keep the slide count low.

Want to dazzle your audience? Give up the traditional slides completely.

PowerPoint slides can be really useful, but we’ve become so accustom to them and they almost never stop being so bland. Sure, there are ways you can drastically improve them (see some of the suggestions above, for example), but if you really want to wow your audience, try getting rid of them. Period.

Instead, maybe give Prezi a try. It’s the same slide concept, but it’s interactive. You can make the slides more visually appealing while still conveying your information, so you’re reaching a broader range of learning styles and increasing retention rates for your data.

The Prezi below encompasses a lot of the characteristics of a good presentation that we’ve discussed here in this post. It’s very to-the-point with its information, using lots of bullet points where it gives text. But it’s not all text. Note the use of infographics – still presenting data, but through a popular medium created to help people understand that information. And because one of the features of a Prezi is that you can have the presentation zoom in, this one focuses on little bits of information at a time, making it more easily digestible for your audience, and allowing you to speak at length about one thing before moving on.

Finally, this isn’t a long presentation either. It presents the relevant data, gives some bullet points to highlight, and then moves on. This is great as an introductory slideshow, one in which you might be first introducing your data to an audience.

What are some of your tips for great presentations that maximize the effect of your data? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

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About the author: Renee is a freelance writer and the managing editor for Business 2 Community. She currently resides in Central Pennsylvania (whatever you’ve heard is probably true) and continues to pursue her dream of once again renting her own apartment – preferably in Philadelphia – if only to house her ever-growing collection of books. She received a BA in English from Susquehanna University and an MA in English from George Mason.