Aug 23 2019

Why IT, Business Leaders Need to Know How to Present Data with Visualization

Engaging presentations are the missing link between good data and good decisions.

Modern technology professionals understand that the data inside their networks is more than just important to the business. In many ways, the business can’t run without it. That’s why they work hard to store the data, back it up and protect it, and why so many have been investing in business intelligence solutions to help them analyze it.

Reporting out data so that leaders have the information they need to make the right business decisions has become a critical function in many organizations, and a nexus point between the IT department and the rest of the business.

But for tech leaders whose jobs include compiling or presenting that data, here’s a tip: No one wants to be just shown data. They need help understanding what the data means. They want insight. This is, in fact, why you were invited to the meeting in the first place.

Stephanie Evergreen
Insightful data presentations state your point and provide visual evidence that backs up your message with clear, high-impact graphics."

Stephanie Evergreen, Ph.D. Consultant, Evergreen Data

Have you ever spent the majority of a meeting trying to figure out what’s on the slides? Ever have an audience start drawing conclusions or overfocusing on parts of your slide that aren’t relevant to your point? Both of these scenarios occur because we tend to just show the data. People are missing the good ideas that are further down the agenda and that inevitably get pushed to the next quarter’s meeting because decision-makers spent too long trying to dig through numbers.

There are other unintended consequences to just showing data. It can cause confusion, which often leads to inaction. Data confusion and lack of action occur every day in corporations all over the globe. 

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Poor Visualizations Make for Bad Business

Here’s an example: A few years back, a major car company was sued for its failure to act on a known safety issue. It had a problem with an ignition switch that caused car engines to turn off even while the cars were being driven if the keys jingled in a certain way. A dead engine also meant no power steering or airbag deployment. As one would expect, people died as a result.

The company knew about this issue for a long time before it was forced to take action. An investigation into what the automaker knew and when detailed how people inside the company discussed the matter in meetings early on. When you look at the actual meeting presentations, you can see that the slides themselves are dry, technical and nearly indecipherable.

Torque vs. Rotation

It’s unsurprising that company leaders failed to act with urgency based on that information. Now, there were many other reasons the ­ignition switch problem went unaddressed. But company culture is really about how we talk to one another. And in every company I’ve seen, slide decks are a key communication mechanism.

You can see the slide I’m referring to above. I think you’ll find, as I did, that it lacks a clear, insightful point that tells an immediate story

DISCOVER: Find out how technology can help nonprofits tell more powerful stories.

Insightful Presentations Generate Good Ideas

Insightful data presentations state your point and provide visual evidence that backs up your message with clear, high-impact graphics. They cut down the confusion and feed the decisions at hand. Insightful slides help us unearth good ideas, halt bad ones and get our products to market faster.

Creating such presentations is easier than you might think, though it requires a bit of training on your presentation tool (be it PowerPoint or something else) and thoughtful selection of the types of charts and graphics that best s­upport the story you’re telling.

Your own meetings might not contain such life-or-death scenarios as defective automobiles, but all meetings are more effective and efficient when you stop showing data and start sharing your insights.

jeffbergen/Getty Images

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