Feature Post: How to create stunning charts for your presentation slides! Part 1

by Oliver Adria on 01/04/2009

charts_bringing_you_downCharts are often an important part of a presentation. You can visualize complex data with charts. But I’ve seen some horrible visual usage of them; the slides with charts are often cluttered, the data is displayed too small and sometimes irrelevant or superfluous data is included.

What’s the solution? If you want to create great charts, first let go of the notion that the slides will be a “stand-alone product”. Since you will be presenting the chart slides when showing them, there is no need to write down every detail on the slides. If the listener has any questions, then they can ask you during or after the presentation (or you can write it in the handout). It’s amazing what a few tweaks can do to a chart slide. So let’s begin!

Using simplicity

So now with your mind letting go of the idea of the need to have everything on the slide you can de-clutter your presentation slides and get rid of information excess – if you have too much information, the audience won’t know what to pay attention to. You want the listener to focus on the most important things. As an example, if you want to show the difference in the research budget of 2 companies, e.g. company A and I, you can show the research budget of company C, F, H and J as well to show the research budgets of other companies, but there is no need to show B, D, E, G and so on, that’s just too much data. See the difference here:

lots_of_bars_460Too much data?

less_bars_460Here we use less bars so the reader is not confused with too much data

less_bars_sorted_460Sorting the data will give even more clarity

Contrast and Visibility

Now we’ve reduced and sorted the data, but there are only one or two chart bars that should be the center of attention, you can color them differently than the other chart bars. This will make them pop out and better visible. Consider the following example (continued from above)
contrast_bars_460 We color the bars that we want to have stand out

Why 3-D should be avoided (and what to do instead)
When I see 3-D charts usually a warning signal pops up in my head. 3-D charts will distort the data and I’d say most people probably just use the 3-D effects to make it more “cool” or elegant, but there are other (non-distorting) ways to do so. You can use a bit of gradient to make the charts a bit more elegant. If the chart bars are tiny, you should consider making them a bit bigger to emphasize the effect. Let’s look at the following example.

thicker_bars_460 Here we increase the thickness just by a little bit (they were thick enough already before)

gradient_added_460 And now with a little gradient

Go here for Part 2 of this blog post.

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