Decluttering Your Data Story Presentation

Now that we are approaching the one-year mark of working from home (for most of us in the non-essential population), it makes the mind wonder what this change of a working environment has done to our work ethic and productivity. One of the most important parts of working from home is maintaining a clean, quiet workspace so that we may remain productive and focused on our goals. This perfectly parallels one of the KEY principles of success in data storytelling. 



Nothing crams up a data story presentation more than having too many words and not enough visual aides. A common misconception when developing data stories is that white space is a bad thing -- and that is not always the case. White space can often help draw our attention towards what matters most in the data story and allows the audience to engage and focus more on the visual insights being revealed.



When you’re presenting the data story, especially to someone new, it is imperative to provide them with an immediate draw toward what you’re trying to convey. Statistics show that members of your audience will decide within the first thirty seconds of your presentation whether listening to you is worth their time -- or wasting it. The material you show in the beginning is crucial in captivating their interest and keeping it throughout the duration of your presentation.



Start off with a BANG and then fill the rest of the details in. Having a killer introduction in a presentation will ensure that those watching will maintain interest enough to want the details in the middle and end. Being clear with your intention and directive will help gear your audience up for the rest of the presentation, which will also make it easier for them to follow along.



Another mistake frequently made by data storytellers is reading from the presentation. You want to try to stay away from full paragraphs as frequently as possible and really drive the audience’s attention toward the visuals (graphs and charts) and make your words count. An easy way to avoid this mistake is to input the visual aides last. Once you have all of the information you want your audience to have in the presentation, begin inputting the data into charts and graphs and removing the sentences. Let the colors and numbers (and your mouth!) talk and provide everyone with a truly captivating presentation.



A good way to do this is to organize your presentation with an outline and ensure that your  clear point is addressed up front, and then lay it out by levels of importance. Save the verbal and written explanations for the parts that have many layers to them and actually NEED the support. Whenever possible, let the visuals do the talking for you.



By far, one of the most important pieces to a data story is making sure you’re presenting in a way that your audience can understand. Presenting your data story is always something that can be nerve wrecking, so a safe way to go about starting is going under the assumption that no one listening has any idea what you’re talking about. 

Be clear with your message, and only explain your reasoning for the data once. Let that initial knowledge guide your audience through the rest of your presentation and make sure you ultimately answer the question that prompted everything to begin with. If you ever feel like your audience is losing their place, looks confused, or seems distracted...PAUSE. Pausing during your presentation is a powerful way to re-engage everyone and allow everyone’s thought process to catch up to where you are.




To recap the major points here, be clear, and let the work you put into the data story speak for itself. Chances are you’ve spent hours or days creating this perfect visual story for your audience and now is your chance to let all that effort shine. Presenting with clean visuals and getting to the point early on is your key to success. Follow up with the smaller details. End your data story presentation with a bang and you’ve done it right.



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