Data presentation — is it time to go back to basics?
You’ve heard the old phrase, ‘keep it simple, stupid’, but have you ever considered how that advice relates to the way you present data analyses?
After working hard to access, extract and crunch the data, the final report presentation can feel like a bit of an… afterthought. Not intentionally, of course; time runs away when you’re being pulled in all directions.
As a busy data analyst, getting recognition for your hard work can be challenging. So there’s a natural instinct, when you do finally deliver your data insights, to include in all the information you’ve uncovered to justify the time it can take.
You don’t want to risk over-simplifying your work to the detriment of your complex analytical role, do you? Actually, streamlining your results makes data far more digestible to those less close to the detail.
There might be different ways of presenting data, but when you’re presenting analyses, simplicity is key.
You don’t want to risk over-simplifying your work, to the detriment of your complex analytical role, do you? Actually, streamlining your results makes data far more digestible.
Today, data visualisation has a tendency to become style over substance. How do you tell a story to your wider business with data, without overcomplicating the information:
1. Go back to basics with your data analysis
When it comes to data analysis, there might be reams and reams of information to process. Every connection reveals a new insight, each with its own business value. Confusingly for data analysts, there are countless tools available, all offering data visualisation and data storytelling capabilities to make these connections more visible to the wider organisation.
Contrary to belief, your ‘non-techie’ colleagues aren’t waiting for you to present beautiful visuals to make your data most interesting. They just want to understand the data as quickly as possible.
You might need to learn the art of simple presentation; consider the following example graphic.
This is an example of infographic-style data visualisation. Without a supporting article, paper or report, however, these graphics are notoriously hard to read. In this instance, the percentages add up to more than 100%, with no indication why. Is the data incorrect, for example, or did each respondent select more than one option? What’s more, the colours are busy and distracting, and fail to correspond proportionally with the numbers presented.
Ideally, you want to make your life as presenter easy; requiring additional explanations on your data as you go through will only add complexity and stress to your presentations. Instead of a misleading infographic (that arguably looks more interesting, stylistically) consider a simple bar graph or line chart to tell your story more clearly.
Your ‘non-techy’ colleagues aren’t waiting for you to present beautiful visuals. They just want to understand the data as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, stripping data down is easier said than done. Sometimes, creating a more intricate graphic is less time consuming than producing a simple one. Not to mention, it feels more intuitive to include as much juicy data as possible.
If you’re unsure how to simplify the look and feel of your charts, consider attending a Demarq workshop on storytelling with data. Find out how graphics such as these can be streamlined and simplified for the highest levels of understanding.
2. The Pareto principle
The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, is an excellent rule of thumb, both for data visualisation as well as presentations in general.
The rule outlines that in many situations, 20% of the activities are responsible for 80% of the results. But how does this relate to your data analysis presentations?
There’s a good chance that 20% of the information will support the message you’re conveying. Only include information in a presentation if it adds something new to the story you are telling.
If you consider the breadth and depth of the insights you’ve gathered from your data, outlining it all in unison will be both overwhelming and complex for your audience. From all of the analytical work you have done, there’s a good chance that 20% of the information will support the message you’re conveying. Only include information in a presentation if it adds something new to the story you are telling.
- Strip your data presentation down to simple, digestible graphics
- Use minimal colours and distractions
- Ensure you highlight data proportionately and accurately
- Draw your audience’s attention to the most important results.
This approach takes a dose of objectivity; you must first consider what data your audience is most likely to want to see.
3. Who are you are presenting to?
Finally, when deciding how best to simplify your presentation, it’s important to step back from the data analysis and think about your stakeholders’ objectives. A marketing team, for example, may be more interested in organic channel growth, whereas Sales may require insight on qualified leads.
Consider the high-level needs of your business. Are you presenting to a board of directors that wants to know more about overall business growth than sales by specific category, for example?
If you’re unsure which insights are most important to your audience — whether you’re new to the business or have been in your role for a number of years — why not interview them?
Think carefully about the timing of your data presentation. Is it being delivered at a time of tighter budgets, whereby insights on cost savings rather than annual expenditure may be more valuable?
If you’re unsure which insights are most important to your audience — whether you’re new to the business or have been in your role for a number of years — why not interview them? It is important that you understand the requirements of your audience so make sure you are fully aware of their expectations prior to starting your analysis.
Ask what information will deliver the most value, and tailor your presentation accordingly. There’s often scope to visualise alternative and supplementary data, but try to place the emphasis and focus on their needs, first and foremost.
Overall, data storytelling needn’t be complex nor time consuming, but it is important to boost the profile of your role as data analyst.
If you’re struggling to lead your audience to a recommendation or conclusion with your data, or want to know how to maintain their attention during your presentation, find out more about Demarq’s tailored data analyst workshops. Learn how to take a top-down approach to presentation of data analysis, allowing you to drive your data presentation from the needs of your stakeholder rather than from the data upwards.