Data Presentation: How to Turn Heads and Win Hearts

Answers without data are just opinions. But, even if you have an ample amount of data but fail to present its value or meaning, you’ll never be able to convince someone to take any action or decision.

Thus enters the art of data presentation – the art of revealing the story (basically, storytelling) behind data – irrespective of its quantity. How effective you are with presenting the data directly affects how impressive and valuable the audience finds the same data.

Wall inscriptions made by the ancient Egyptians for storytelling. Image Credit:

Data presentation is the use of various graphical techniques to visually present data and narrate a compelling story behind it to the audience, in order to emphasise their importance.

The term “data presentation” may seem like something out of the 20th and 21st centuries. But visual tools have existed since the stone age, with cave paintings and inscriptions on rocks were all “visual tools”, used by our ancestors thousands of years ago. The only variation is that we now have better tools that enable us to present enormous volumes of data (big data) with just a few clicks on a button.

Thanks to technology, especially our beloved smartphones, the average attention span of humans is just 8 seconds. The number is expected to fall, and the fact that it took just a few years to drop from 12 seconds to 8 seconds seems to be intriguing and horrifying at the same time.

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Data presentation is all about the ‘aha’ moment. It’s about making the most out of those 8 seconds of undivided attention. It’s about translating data into digestible nuggets of information.

If you’re eager to master the art of data presentation, this article is a perfect starting point. If you are considering a career in big data analytics, knowing how to create and present data-driven presentations becomes even more crucial. Let’s scan the entire process in detail.

Why Is Data Presentation Important?

If you’re stuck at wondering “what is data presentation?”, it is the use of various graphical techniques to visually present data and for narrating a compelling story behind it to the audience, in order to emphasise their importance.

To understand the importance of data presentation, imagine what you would be doing if not for presentation tools. You would probably have to present the data sitting in thousands of rows on a spreadsheet.

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Now, imagine being an audience member and being presented with a spreadsheet containing endless rows of data. That would be the most boring thing you ever encountered.

The raw data sets you collect have no meaning unless you process it into something meaningful using various types of analytics. None of the audience will be interested in the raw data sets, but their meaning and interpretation – hence data presentation.

Humans are visual creatures. We tend to look at the spot that shines the brightest or has the highest contrast. Our visual memory is far superior to auditory recall – meaning, we’re more likely to remember things that we see than we hear.

By using vivid graphs and other visual representation techniques, you can grab the attention of the audience (and sustain it) and explain the results, meaning, or importance of the data collected and analysed.

How Does Data Analytics Training Help Companies In Better Data Presentation?

Data analytics training significantly enhances a company’s ability to present data in a clear and impactful manner.

Effective data presentation is crucial for communicating insights to stakeholders and supporting strategic decision-making.

Training provides employees with the skills to use advanced visualization tools and techniques, ensuring that complex data sets are translated into understandable, visually appealing formats.

This not only facilitates better internal communication but also improves how insights are shared with clients or the public, enhancing transparency and trust.

By investing in analytics training, companies empower their teams to deliver data-driven stories that are compelling and directly aligned with business objectives.

Types of Data That Require Presentation

1. Numerical Data

They are measurable data such as time, amount, weight, and height, recorded in the form of digits. Although numerical data has meaning on its own, it’s often coupled with textual data.

2. Textual Data

Textual data are either written for a specific purpose or transcribed from speech. They are materials that include written, printed, or electronically published words.

3. Pictorial Data

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Pictorial data, also known as pictographs or image data, consist of data presented in the form of images. Depending on the object of which the image is presented, it can be raw or processed.

4. Spatial Data

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Also known as geospatial data, spatial data refers to the geographic information about a physical object which can be represented using numbers, such as places, monuments, or planets.

5. Map Data (Or Maps)

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Maps are used to show the geographical boundaries, along with other attributes such as the demographics, topography, climate, and pollution levels.

Apart from the types of data mentioned earlier, there are several others such as encrypted data, symbols, and combinations of multiple types.

What Are the Methods of Data Presentation?

There are mainly three different methods of data presentation – Text, Table, and Graph. The data presentation methods are determined by the data format in question. We’ll discuss that in detail shortly. Before that, let’s look at how the three methods vary.

1. Text Presentation

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Test presentation is used to offer contextual information (for example, the relevance of a survey in a presentation) or as an explanation of results and trends. They are generally written language in the form of sentences or paragraphs that can be used to emphasise or interpret data.

If the data to be presented is minimal, and the use of a table or graph would unnecessarily take up space, then text presentation is a good choice. Here’s an example of how Steve Jobs uses text presentation.

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In this presentation, only a few numbers are presented, and so, going for text presentation makes more sense. However, if you plan to include the download or purchase data of more than ten months or so, going for a table or graph would be ideal.

2. Table Presentation

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Information presented in the form of rows and columns has been around for centuries. If you’re confused about how tables and graphs differ, think of the accuracy of both. Something as accurate as “5.632541” can be presented on a table, and not on a chart.

Tables are ideal for presenting multiple types of information together and for comparing the differences of certain variables. However, interpretation of data may take more time with tables, unlike graphs. Also, tables are inefficient when it comes to studying trends. However, you can use heatmaps to increase the scannability of tables.

This form of visual data presentation is typically used for:

  • Qualitative classification: Sociological and psychological information derived from qualities such as nationality, age, social status, appearance, and personality traits.
  • Quantitative classification: This category includes items you can count or number.
  • Spatial classification: Location-based information such as data on a city, state or region.
  • Temporal classification: Info is classified according to various measures of time including seconds, hours, days or weeks.
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3. Double Bar Graph

One example of a bar graph is the double bar graph, which displays more than one data set in clustered horizontal columns. As each data set shares the same vertical axis labels, each horizontal bar is grouped by category.

The bars directly compare multiple sets of data in a given category, making this form of data presentation template easy to read and interpret, even for a general audience.

4. Graph Presentation

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A presentation aid that is a pictorial representation of statistical data is called a graph. While tables are ideal for presenting accurate information, charts are beneficial for presenting complex information in a simplified and visually appealing manner.

Charts are essentially images that can present large volumes of data and emphasise their trends or patterns. There are various types of graphs, ideal for different purposes.

For big data presentations, graphs can be a better choice as, tables or texts may require lots of screen space to present the humongous volumes of data. Here are some of the most common graph-based data presentation templates.

i. Scatter Plot

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A scatter plot graph presents data using the x and y axes and is ideal for uncovering the relationship between two variables. A point in the scatter plot will represent the association between two variables and patterns can be analysed by studying multiple points.

ii. Line Chart

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Line charts (or graphs) are the most basic type of graphical representation and are beneficial for studying data, known as time-series data, collected over a period of time. Rise (or fall) in unemployment rates and the increase in demand for a product over the months are examples.

They are also useful to demonstrate the growth of multiple data sets over time or distance. By doing so, you can compare and analyse the patterns across those data sets.

iii. Bar Graph

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Bar graphs are one of the most extensively used graph types. They are ideal for comparing multiple attributes, for example, the increase (or decrease) of revenue contribution from multiple sources over a stipulated time.

They can be created both horizontally and vertically, and the height of the bar represents the level of information. Multiple bars can also be stacked together to form stacked bar graphs.

iv. Pie Chart

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Pie charts are used to represent data classified into multiple categories and together forms a 100%. For example, pie charts can be used to describe the population of different states of a country.

v. Combo Chart

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Combo charts are combinations of two or more types of charts (or graphs). These charts are ideal if you want to save screen space and also to compare and analyse the patterns across multiple data sets.

If you’re confused about which graph to choose, here’s a flowchart that lets you decide with ease.

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How to Choose the Right Data Presentation Type?

The goal of your presentation is to convey the information and convince the audience, and so, more thought must be put into choosing the right presentation method. Choosing the right method of data presentation is dependent on,

  • Audience
  • Data format
  • Method of analysis
  • The information you intend to emphasise

Wrongly chosen presentation methods can nullify the importance of data and of course, your efforts. Even if you’re talking about the same set of data, you may have to use different data presentation techniques depending on the information you wish to emphasise.

Data Presentation Examples

The Good Ones

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The Bad Ones

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What Are the Main Features of a Good Data Presentation?

How do you give a presentation on data? Here are some key tips to help you:

  1. Know your audience: Understanding your audience is paramount when tailoring a presentation that they understand and follow. You must consider their needs, interests and existing knowledge about your topic.
  2. Have a clear message: Every presentation should have a clear and concise message that the audience will remember. Determine the message of your presentation and let it be the guiding point for your audience.
  3. Tell a compelling story: Humans love a good story, so weaving storytelling techniques into your presentation will make the data more relatable and memorable.
  4. Leverage visuals: Visuals are powerful tools in data presentation. Graphs, charts, and images convey complex data and information in an accessible and engaging way, enhancing the visual appeal of your presentation.
  5. Be clear and concise: Clarity is king. Use plain language and explain points as clearly and concisely as possible. Do not resort to jargon or complex terms.
  6. Practice your delivery: Practice makes perfect. Rehearse your presentation multiple times before the actual delivery. This will help you improve your delivery and prevent you from stumbling.

What Are the Tips for Better Data Presentation?

1. Label Components Clearly

Even if you worked on a particular graph or chart for days, your audience would be exposed to it for only a couple of seconds. And you have to make the best use of those seconds and ensure that your audience clearly understands each component.

Also, refrain from using abbreviations – especially the jargons. The key is to make your presentation scannable, understandable, and memorable for 100% of your audience.

2. Don’t Scare Your Audience With Numbers

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Too many digits and decimals can be overwhelming for the viewers. Even though data analysts love numbers, the audience may not. Here are some tips to make the numbers more presentable.

  • Remove decimals, if the difference between numbers doesn’t depend on them.
  • Use commas for any number beyond a thousand. (100000000 is scary; 100,000,000 is approachable).
  • Align your numbers to a specific side (preferably right).

3. Make It Easy on the Eyes

Your presentation might be clear and readable on your laptop screen. But the projector may have a different story to tell. Instead of being too conscious about saving the screen real estate, try increasing the size of elements so that they offer a comfortable viewing experience.

4. The Presentation Must Have a Specific Purpose

Your data sets will have a specific story to tell, and your presentation will be the medium. Suppose you’ve measured the ROI of a group of marketing campaigns and want to showcase why a particular campaign outshined the others.

If so, it is highly recommended you cut straight to the point without explaining something like how other campaigns could be perfected. To make sure you always craft purpose-driven presentations, remember the title of your presentation and the reason why the audience shared with you their valuable time to listen.

5. Refrain From Mixing Different Chart Types, Unless Unavoidable

Generally, the reason for introducing a particular chart is to tell the audience a story about a data set. If you want to show the correlation between two variables, for instance, the relationship between click-through rate (CTR) and visits, then here’s a bad and a good (better) example for it.

A bad example as there is no notable correlation between the two variables. Image Credit:
A side by side graph is a better option in some instances. Image Credit:

However, here’s an example of fitting two series into the same chart.

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The point here is that mixing charts is something to be refrained from, as the audience gets to see it for only a couple of seconds and so, it can be more confusing than informative.

But if mixing two series is integral to present your findings, then go for it, but make sure you creatively address the confusion aspect.

6. Be Thoughtful While Using 3-D Graphs

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3-D graphs look amazing on the screen, especially when it’s a pie chart. But at times, especially with bar graphs, the information conveyed won’t be accurate. Here’s an example.

7. Pies Can be Harmful

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If you have three or four, or at max five categories to represent, then a pie chart is an excellent data visualization technique. But for anything more than that, pie charts can be confusing to the viewer.

Pitfalls to Avoid While Presenting Data

1. Presenting Irrelevant Data

If a particular data set has nothing to do with your research question, then it is highly advised you remove it – even if you did spend some time gathering it. Irrelevant data will confuse the viewers and distract them from the critical ones.

2. Presenting Too Much Information at Once

The problem with info overload is that it does more harm than good. The excess of information will confuse the audience and force them to miss the primary intention behind your presentation.

The key is to break down your presentation into digestible chunks, free of clutter and irrelevant information that doesn’t complement the big picture. Instead of dumping too much information, you must give the audience the chance to think for themselves.

3. Using Acronyms, Jargons, and Abbreviations Thoughtlessly

Jargons and acronyms are cool – if the listeners are aware of them. However, there will always be some who aren’t accustomed to the majority of jargons you use.

Remember, most of your data presentations would be presenting your findings (which is of a technical nature) to a non-technical audience. Even if it costs you a couple of seconds more, try using exact and simple words.

4. Using Footnotes to Increase Credibility

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Of course, footnotes are essential to back your research and its “correctness”. But they can occupy a significant part of your slides and make it overwhelming for the viewers. Instead, try sending out the sources to the ones who request them or dedicate the final slide for the same.

5. Relying Solely on Colour to Show Differences

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Around 1 in 200 women and 1 in 12 men are colourblind. This means, if you solely rely on colours without numbers, at least a few of your audience won’t understand your intention. Even black and white printers are “colourblind”, and so, anyone printing your presentation will have a hard time.

It’s Aha vs Nah Moment

Data presentation is all about inciting the “Aha moment”. If you fail to do so, it becomes the “Nah moment”. If you desire to become a data scientist or a data storyteller (or planning to take up jobs in data analytics), knowing how to develop and deliver data-driven presentations will be a significant plus.

Undoubtedly, the different methods of data presentation discussed in this article will help you convey significant amounts of information to the audience without losing their interest. Always remember – you just have 8 seconds to convey “the information”.