Monday, March 7, 2011

5 Tips for Presenting Graphs and Charts Interactively

Many presentations - in-person or online, real-time or slow-time - tend to involve information that is best shown in graphs and charts. Imagine presenting financial data, sales information, survey findings, employee data, scientific correlations - the list is endless. In each case, you have the daunting task of showing all relevant information, yet focusing the audience on key highlights, findings or takeaways.

One way to make your graphs and charts really talk to the audience is to present them interactively. How on earth does one do that? Well, here are some tips.

1. Plan your content with minimal text
The big value of a graph or a chart is in its graphic content. You don't want to distract viewers with a lot of text in the surrounding areas. Yes, I know there is a lot that needs to go on the slide, but you can use your judgment and prune the content to bare essentials. This enhances the effectiveness of your graphs. For example, let's assume you want to show the negative correlation between product price and quantity sold across the company's product line.  You could do a bubble chart with quantity and price on the axes, and the bubble size would show the revenue of each product.

2. Don't show everything at once
If you can build up a chart part-by-part, do so. Rather than see it all at once, the viewer finds it easier to see what is on each axis, to get the frame of reference, to watch the first series build up and then the next, and so on. Animations are also good attention-getters. A pie chart that shows - slice-by-slice - details of each segment is more catchy than one where all labels appear at once.

3.  Relate the graph to data
If you can afford the space on your slide, show a data table next to the graph. Again, remember rule #1 and #2. Not all the data, and not all at once, but only after the graph builds up, and preferably on-demand. Imagine the rich user experience where hovering the cursor over a row of the table highlights the corresponding line graph, and  conversely, clicking a line graph highlights the corresponding data set.

4. Allow selective viewing
Even after a graph has fully built up, allow the use of filters to turn off some data-sets and view a subset of the graph. For example, in a column chart of quarterly sales in five regions over past eight quarters, there are 40  columns to see. A user might find it worthwhile to select one region at a time and study the sales pattern. Another user may be interested in selecting a recent quarter and study how the five regions contributed to sales in that quarter.

5. Provide interpretation
A graph is only useful if it points to a trend, a historical perspective, a correlation or such other insight that jumps out of a cluster of data points. Since you have prepared the graph, you presumably have such an insight and want to share it with the viewers. This is done easily by providing a hyper-linked annotation on parts of graphs. Each annotation pops up when that part is clicked, and viewers learn more. This will help you explain that dip in revenue, or that outlier in your employee productivity chart much more easily!

Sounds interesting? You can see examples of such interactive graphs built using Raptivity Presenter by clicking here.

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