Nowadays, thanks to the democratization of tools like Excel and Powerpoint, charts and graphs are common ways to communicate numbers. However, the art of mastering data presentations is about so much more than simply putting together nice illustrations. Whatever the case is (pitching to investors, delivering yearly results to your boss, or a usual weekly report with your team), your main goal is to leave a memorable impact on your target audience by displaying information in a way that is attention-grabbing and understandable.
Those that aren’t “number people” needn’t run and hide so fast, as I’m here to assist. Working as an expert Business Analyst at Wix, I have extracted some very useful and easy-to-apply tips from my job. I employ them on a daily basis, starting from creating my analysis and transforming it into visual charts and dashboards, up until the final presentation. I’m certain that they will help you too. Here are six simple and attainable tips you should start utilizing, in order to kick that next data presentation through the roof:
Sometimes the hardest part of performing an analysis is to identify the correct Key Performance Indicator (KPI) and figure out the most intuitive way to present it. A KPI is a measurable value that demonstrates how effectively a business (or a specific project, mission, team, etc.) is at achieving its goals. For example, measuring your company’s sales can be your main KPI, whose growth trend you’d want to examine on a monthly basis.
The KPIs you choose to present should certainly be measurable, but also actionable, accurate and aligned with your strategic business objectives. For example, if I would like to focus on conversion through my website, I need to create a funnel to show me the number of users who have finished the purchase process out of the total users who have visited my online store. Looking at this KPI will help me compare my site’s performance on different occasions while improving it according to different dimensions I add to my analysis.
The best analysis in the world isn’t worth anything if no one can understand it. This is why you need to keep in mind who your “client” is. Think about the people most likely to see or use your presentation. Who are you trying to convince with your findings? And what is their level of knowledge or expertise on the subject?
For example, if I need to present the same data to management versus other analysts in my company, I will present it differently. Managers have many projects on their hands, and will, therefore, most likely want a clear and concise summary of the data. Conversely, other analysts may want to see your process from start to finish, including the small details related to your findings.
Now is time for the actual application: drafting your chart. When doing so, make sure you choose the option best suited for your data. To find out which one, I’ve put together a list of the most common chart types and when to use them:
Line: Use line charts to emphasize the continuation or flow of the values, in other words: trends. At Wix, we mostly visualize conversion rates (%) with line charts – but it can also be used for absolute numbers. I recommend using line charts only when the trend is important, and especially when your x-axis is a time-series (days, months, etc.).
Bar chart: Also called column charts, they are used to compare values for different categories, or for changes over a period of time for a single category. Bar charts can be vertical or horizontal. The main difference between them is that horizontal charts are rarely used to display time series, while vertical ones are. I recommend using bar charts when you have a limited number of categories to compare and you want to emphasize the difference between them.
Table: This is the most effective way to present data for reference purposes. A table should be constructed so that it is easy for readers to see differences. Use this format when you care less about the trend and more about the actual numbers, especially when you have very few numbers to display.
Pie: Used to visualize a part-to-whole relationship, where each slice represents a different category of your data. Pie charts are tricky, so if you are planning to use them, please make sure that:
The last, but certainly not least: before publishing your work, make sure you take care of formatting. Here are some basic and important points we insist on here at Wix:
At Wix, we always strive to find the best perspective to present our data. Perspective is crucial, as we don’t want to create an “illusion” of a major improvement when there isn’t one (although it can be very tempting to fool ourselves into feeling the beach vibes on that one random hot day in the middle of winter). Furthermore, we always want to focus on what’s important by separating the wheat from the chaff. To help you out, you may want to follow these useful guidelines when presenting your results:
Keep a unified baseline. As a rule of thumb, always include a zero baseline – as in always start your y-axis from zero like I’ve demonstrated below. The reason for this is that it provides more context for comparison across charts.
Don’t neglect the absolute numbers. Always remember to look at the actual numbers to identify a significant trend. Looking at the percentage and noticing a great improvement or decrease of your value is only half of the interpretation. It would not interest anyone if the actual numbers were in fact very small and unimpactful.
After finishing your presentation and before presenting it to the client, make sure to conduct a test. Sometimes, I get too much into my own creations and work that it’s difficult to take a step back and understand if it actually makes sense. As a business owner, you most likely know that your “typical user” has certain characteristics in terms of age, country, taste, etc. Within the Business Analysts Team at Wix, we sometimes run tests (similar to our products’ usability tests) on people that share the same characteristics as our typical users before sharing the product with the world.
A human being’s attention span is now officially shorter than that of a goldfish. Make sure your presentation grabs your viewers’ attention in the first few seconds, or you might lose your audience’s focus for good. Keep your presentation short, sweet, and to-the-point
On top of this, get proper feedback from a colleague whose judgment you trust. This can help you understand where your logic fails or where the rest of the world just did not get the point you were trying to make. Besides, it’s always a good idea to make sure you didn’t over-complicate things.
Now that you’re fully equipped to ace your next data presentation, all you need is a little touch of confidence and you’re all set to go. Good luck!
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