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January 11, 2011

Get the most out of your charts

When presenting your recommendations, the tagline of each of your slide spells out its main idea and the body of the slide supports that idea with details.

You have several options to display these details including text, quantitative charts, concept visuals, tables, photos, or a combination of these. Each creates a different impression. Let’s talk about quantitative charts.

Quantitative charts can be an excellent way to present data but you must choose the right chart for your data.

Choose the right chart

Building on the work of Zelazny, Andrew Abela has developed a great tool to help you choose the right chart.

Chart chooser

There are other tools out there to help you use the right chart: Juice Analytics also has a chart chooser and Visual Literacy has assembled the most comprehensive list of charts I have seen in a periodic classification of visualization methods.

Tailor your chart to your data set: make sure that the data set uses the full area available and select the scale that best brings out your main idea. If you are comparing data across charts, ensure they use the same scales. Don’t use a background color if you don’t have to (avoid the Excel signature of having a grey background with pink and blue curves on top and horizontal ticker lines). Ditch the cheap effects such as pseudo-3D rendering. Label your axes and include units. Use the units that most reduce the number of characters that you must display and omit decimals if they aren’t necessary. Finally make sure that all labels are sufficiently big so that your audience doesn’t have to strain to read them.

See more: For presentations in general, and choosing charts in particular, you might want to have a look at Abela’s Advanced Presentations by Design. Perhaps the best book on the subject is Tufte’s Visual Display of Quantitative Information.