Presenting data is not an easy task, however effortless it may seem to us when listening to some people do it. Especially when presenting your work. Good presentation needs effort, and more often than not, it requires practice. But even without much practice, we can present our data in a way that suits most of the audience. Our presentation is a story, and data is there to help us tell that story if we use it right.

Being a bit nervous is a good thing!

Most of us feel at least a bit nervous when presenting our work. But being a bit nervous is not a bad thing. It means you care and you want to do a good job. Acknowledge that, compose yourself before starting and calm yourself with the knowledge that you care about your work, which won’t go unnoticed.

Less is more

Everyone loves simple and classic, you can never go wrong with it. Presenting your data with a simple color palette and animations is the best way to attract people’s attention. If data is not clear, the message that we are trying to send will be lost. 

Using too much animation could only confuse the audience. And using colors should be done carefully, not to go overboard, but just to emphasize something if needed. 

And most importantly, be careful with how much text you put on each slide. There should never be too much since the audience will be confused or easily bored. But then again, nobody wants to see an almost empty slide, either. Find the perfect balance. 

presenting data in a presentation

Example 1 

An example above shows a few mistakes that we can make, such as:

  • Inappropriate template for the story that we are telling
  • Unnecessarily long title 
  • Much more text per slide than is needed
  • Format for numbers is confusing
  • Numbers emphasizing is not intuitive
  • The table can not be understood easily 
  • There is no slide number and the total number of slides, etc.

Ready for a Stakeholder

Your presentation should be ready to be sent to the stakeholder (a client, for example), so don’t overlap data or images you will show individually by animations. Also, choose simple and easily understandable number formats. 

In Example 1, we can see the mistake of using different formats for decimals in one table. 

Also, always try to put yourself in the perspective of someone who hasn’t heard your presentation. Will slides be understandable? 

In the same example, the table represented grades for presentations on a scale from 1 to 5, based on how often the mistake is repeated. 

As we can see, this is not easily understood without a background story. 

Also, we can see that no mistakes were presented with both zero and a “-“.

A more understandable version of this slide from Example 1 is shown below. 

better way of presenting data in a presentation

Example 2

Here we have presented all that text and data in one easily understandable table with a caption. 

Of course, there would be nothing wrong if we added a bit of text, but in this case, it was unnecessary.

Besides the design, the number of slides is also very important, especially if we have limited time to present the data. Make your job easier by carefully choosing what will go on the slides because most people are afraid when they see a large total number of slides. Some of the things can be omitted or just said while presenting. Not everything is worth a slide. Also, most of the listeners want to know the total number of slides, so it is a good practice to use the format “slide number / total number of slides.”

Be ready for questions

Every bit of data you are presenting could be questioned by the audience. So be ready for those questions, understand the data and prepare for questions in advance, especially when presenting your work. If you understand the story well, the audience will have a better chance of understanding it.

Try different visualizations

In the examples above, we only mentioned tables, but the same logic follows charts. We want them to be simple enough but informative as well. Learning more about chart usage is always good before deciding how we want to present our data. For example, pie charts are best for presenting fewer categories, for more categories, we should consider different kinds of graphs.

This can be seen in Example 3 below, where we have 10 languages represented in a pie chart. It is unnecessarily confusing, and a bar chart would be a better replacement. Also, in this example, we can see that empty values are shown too. We need to keep in mind what is the story we are telling. If the story is to show a certain number of the most popular programming languages, we don’t need a number of empty values from the database.

Example 3

Below are two graphs examples showing how small differences make a chart better. 

Example 4

Example 5

Few advantages of Example 5 in comparison with Example 4:

  • There is no unnecessary legend
  • The title gives more information
  • Gridlines are helpful in this example
  • Value labels are shown
  • There is a space between bars
  • The color categorization was not necessary since the labels are visible

Be in sync with the data that you are showing

When talking, always make sure your current topic is shown on the slide. It can be just a title or a bullet point, either way, we should not skip to another piece of information on a slide while we are still talking about something else. We could confuse our audience and lose their focus. That way, some of the important statements could be lost since the audience was not focused on us but on the following statement on a slide.

Be careful with tables

Tables are probably the simplest way to present most of the data. But presenting a table on a slide is tricky. Every table has to be as understandable and simple as possible. If we have bigger tables, it is not a bad idea to separate them and show them piece by piece with animations while presenting data. 

Confusing table:

presenting data in a table

Understandable table:

  • We created separate columns for differences and omitted percentages since they were irrelevant for this analysis. Also, important results were emphasized 

better way of presenting data in a table

Take a small break

Presentation of our story is as important as visualization of data is. Even with limited time for presenting, there is no rush! Rushing will only make the presentation worse. After every topic, take a few seconds break to compose yourself if needed and to give the audience a chance to ask a question. Those few seconds are very much required for a good transition between topics.

Own your decisions

You could be questioned for some decisions you have made regarding the design of the presentation or your work. Either way, you must own those decisions, even your mistakes.

Feedback is gold worthy

Only with honest feedback from people can we grow and learn. It is perfectly fine to make a mistake, what we learn from it is what is important. And if we get feedback for our presentation, even if it is a “bad one,” it is not a bad thing, we could just learn from it. Otherwise, mistakes we make while presenting will be repeated. And every feedback you acknowledge and mistakes you don’t repeat will surely be noticed. 

“Tips and tricks when presenting data” Tech Bite was brought to you by Aida Kopić, Data Analyst at Atlantbh.

Tech Bites are tips, tricks, snippets or explanations about various programming technologies and paradigms, which can help engineers with their everyday job.

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