AMY NEWMAN: In module five we'll talk about how to replace numbers with charts. Numbers can be very difficult to read on a projected PowerPoint slide. As we talked about, if you have a printed PowerPoint that's intended to be a standalone document, that may be fine. But otherwise you really want to use more graphics so people can read your data more easily.
And three principles we'll talk about here. One is how to be explicit about your main point. Or another way to think about that is, so what? What does this data mean? Second we want to provide some context, or compared to what, for the data. And finally we want to choose a chart type that's appropriate to your main point. What does this mean?
Let's look at our first slide. This one is titled Casino Gambling in Connecticut. It's a very interesting slide to me. A lot of data. I'm not quite sure what the point is, if it's just to provide information. I suppose that's OK. But as the audience I would want to know what I'm being oriented to. Or what is the message? So what?
What's really interesting about this slide is, because of that design-- that blue highlight, it happens to fall on the bottom right of the screen. And I don't think that's necessarily where our eyes should be drawn. It's just an accident. So instead, I might propose that the author of this slide highlight whatever is important about it. And perhaps it's that Foxwoods, Massachusetts makes considerable contribution to Connecticut, in which case you might highlight that data.
Here's another example, though. "Slot Wins are Most Profitable for Connecticut." In this case, I'm highlighting that data. Very simple ways to tell the audience what you want them to pay attention to and why.
OK. Let's go back to our hotel example from earlier. And in this example, as I said, it's a very nice slide. It's easy to read. There's no so-called chart junk, as Edward Tufte says. And we'll look at examples of that in just a minute. Again, the title isn't as good as it could be. We did change the title to this one, which is "Average Room Rate Increases Steadily for the Past Six Years." So that's clearly much better.
But things get very interesting in this hotel groups investor presentation as we move on. Here's another slide from the same presentation. So what's different about this slide? Well, when you're looking at that bar chart-- the vertical bar, or what you might call a column chart-- it's smaller. I might cynically say it's smaller because the news isn't quite as good as in the previous slide. And we also have some explanatory text, which is a good idea, but again, should just make us question why this chart is smaller than the other.
In this slide, also called "Business Mode"-- which doesn't have a lot of meaning for us like the previous one-- we see some explanatory text as well. And now the data on the right that's displayed has an enormous text box covering it. So of course we're tempted to read the text box instead of look at the numbers behind it.
Now, if I were the corporate communication person working for this hotel, I might do the same thing and advise them to hide text, in a sense, in this way. But as viewers of data like this, we really need to question what's behind it.
The other interesting thing about this chart is because the scale, that y-axis, looks so compressed, the differences in numbers among the bars is relatively small. If I were to redraw that graph in this way, now you can see that the differences are more exaggerated and perhaps even more accurate, even though it is not good news. So those are some considerations as we're drawing column and vertical bar charts, particularly.
Another issue for us is avoiding chart junk. So if we're going to be clear about how data matters, we want to know what that data represents. In this example, there is so much going on in the background. Those numbers have no meaning for us at all. They're random. It looks like just part of this slide design. And yet they're quite distracting for the viewer and entirely unnecessary.
The legend at the bottom of the slide is also unnecessary because the cities are identified within the pie chart. So that's good. But we're missing the data labels. We don't know what percentage of the pie each of those pieces represent.
We also might have trouble distinguishing among those pie pieces. We've got two almost identical blues right next to each other. And although Pittsburgh is separated and highlighted-- I imagine that's part of the main point, but we don't know that because there's no title for this slide-- red and green tend to be hard for people to distinguish if they're color blind. So those are two color combinations we may want to avoid putting next to each other
Oh, this slide always gets a big laugh from my students. It's very strange. It's from an airline. I have, again, removed the company information. But it's very hard to distinguish among these two bars. And it's particularly curious because it looks like good news. It seems like the cash balance has gone up from one quarter to the next. So why not show that difference?
To better answer that question, compared to what, we might label these bars. And in this example, you can see 3.35 in one bar, 3.5 in the other. And I've actually told you what the increase is, which is 4.47% increase. That seems to me much more useful information and a lot easier to understand than the previous version.
Now this exaggerates things a bit, doesn't it, its 4.5 increase with that nice SmartArt arrow? But the angle of that arrow is deceptive. And that's something that we should be conscious of.
Let's look at another example where the chart type could be used differently. In this one we'll see-- and this is from a student presentation also-- they've used the paired column chart. So they're comparing revenue with wages. And that was sort of their main point.
But if you look at the chart, your eye goes to the declining revenue. And wages are relatively stable in this example, but that's not really the main point of their presentation. The main point of their presentation was this, that wages and salaries as a percentage of revenue are increasing. So I would argue that a line chart-- that does a much better job of showing trends-- would be more appropriate in this case and a better way to convey their main point.
As another example-- this is from our own Cornell Daily Sun, the student newspaper here at Cornell University-- they were talking about student minority populations. So let's look at that chart at right enlarged. They chose to use a stacked bar chart. Not the best choice here. Stacked bars, like pie charts, show us percentages of a whole. So when you look at this chart, it almost implies that these four student minority populations are equally represented at Cornell, because all the columns are the same height. Of course that's not the case.
It also looks like Native American population at only 0.6% is larger than the Asian American population of 15% for the class of 2012, which of course is also not the case. There are a couple of ways to change this chart. I think a comparison bar might be better in this case.
And you could go a couple of ways with this. If you wanted to compare minority populations within a year, you might choose this approach. If you wanted to compare years within minority populations, you might choose this approach. But both would be better than the stacked bar, which was quite misleading for us.
So in this module we talked about turning your numbers into charts. And I would encourage you to be clear about what your main point is. Compared to what? And what does it really mean to the audience?
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We work and live in a visually mediated environment. Understanding the value of visual information is one of the keys to effective communication.
In this CyberTower Study Room, you'll learn how to use visuals in your presentations to support your message. Because PowerPoint has become the most prevalent software tool for business presentations and academic lectures, Amy Newman will focus on this application as she discusses and demonstrates the uses of visual communication, warns you of some of the common pitfalls, and then guides you through seven key principles for improving your presentations:
making the main point clear,
making the presentation easy to follow,
choosing an attractive and appropriate design,
replacing text with graphics,
replacing numbers with charts,
writing simply and clearly, and
making sure that PowerPoint remains a tool that supports the presentation, rather than becoming the focus of the presentation.
Whether you use PowerPoint or other presentation software, this CyberTower room will provide you with a wealth of useful tips.
This video is part 6 of 7 in the Using Visuals to Support a Presentation: PowerPoint series.