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7 Strategies to Amp Your Data Presentation Skills

Over the past two weeks I’ve been sharing some of my best tips for better marketing communications data collection, analysis and management. Today’s article rounds out this short and sweet series with the fun stuff - data presentation!

Recap: The data life cycle

In my previous articles, I explained the three basic phases of the data life cycle:

  1. Collection: The phase of work where you collect the raw data, e.g. running a survey or conducting interviews and focus groups.

  2. Analysis and management: Crunching and giving context to the raw data (i.e. turning it into information) and storage of the data - something which is often done poorly.

  3. Presentation: Working with a writer and/or designer to bring the research to life, usually in the form of a white paper, eBook or report.

It’s really important you don’t plan to simply hand your data off to your designer in this final phase and expect them to come up with something glorious and strategic, unless this is an area they happen to specialise in.

Data presentation combines both visual and strategic thinking, and it’s important that you (as the marketing or communications leader who is driving the project or writing the copy) stay involved in this part of the process.

For the remainder of this article, I’ll provide you with my seven top tips for successful presentation of survey or study data, starting with...

Tip 1: Keep it clear and simple...

Graphs and charts are traditionally the domain of the financial or accounting department. Their motto is often… the more data and information I can cram into a single document, the better!

This is not necessarily the case in marketing and communications, when you’re presenting data to persuade or educate on a particular topic or point of view.

For us, better data means higher quality data. Sometimes less is more. Decide the single key message of your visualisation and only include the data to support that message.

Tip 2: … But don’t mislead

That being said, the mandate to keep things clear, simple and focused on one key message doesn’t give you a licence to selectively edit your data in a way that misleads or distorts the reader. Make sure any numbers you select are presented in the right context.

One classic example of dishonest data presentation is claiming a big percentage change based on a small sample size (e.g. “Company X has increased sales in y market by 85%” - failing to mention the market itself is fewer than 10 companies).

Anyone looking closer at the data will see what you’ve done and may conclude - whether fairly or unfairly - that your organisation is either inept (at best) or dishonest (at worst).

In this case providing the raw numbers is a better option.

Tip 3: Keep it clean and readable

Some designers really like colour. Lots of it. That’s okay, but save the rainbow treatment for another part of your marketing and communications mix.

Refrain from throwing every colour in your colour palette at the chart or graph. It’s distracting and unnecessary. The data is beautiful, so let it speak for itself.

Similarly, make sure the font is readable - not too large or too small, and avoid lots of bold and italics and fancy fonts.

Tip 4: Avoid the PowerPoint trap

Don’t get me wrong, I love PowerPoint as much as the next person. My only warning is to use some of the special effects in the built-in charts function with caution.

Adding 3D effects on pie charts and bar graphs is a classic example of what not to do - it adds nothing to the data and can even make it harder to read accurately.

Avoid doing this

Tip 5: Know your options

There’s more to life than a standard X-Y axis bar graph… no really. If you’re producing a document with various data representations, think about whether different formats can be used throughout the document. This adds some variety and visual interest to your layout.

Have you ever considered a donut chart, for example? Mmmm, donuts…

You can find more on the different types of charts and graphs, mapped by use case and industry here.

Tip 6: There’s a tool for that!

If you’re planning on doing lots of data visualisation and you don’t have a designer who is well versed in it, you can access various web-based services that will help produce professional looking assets for a small monthly fee.

I’ve tried Tableau before and you can also make them in Canva.

Tip 7: Have help on stand-by

Finally, and most importantly, have at least one very good reference book handy, particularly if your visual skillset is on the weak side (I’ll admit to that). These two have a permanent place on my bookshelf:


Here concludes my three-part series on better marketing and communications data. I hope that over the past few weeks I’ve been able to provide some practical ideas for improving the way you approach data collection, analysis, management and presentation.

There’s so much more to data than what I’ve been able to cover in these three articles, of course. I’d love to hear any tips or thoughts you might have - please leave them below

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