CarnivalYou are in the middle of a presentation and your worst nightmare suddenly comes true: your boss yawns, and for the right reasons too: your presentation is dull, your charts are dull dull dull and you are boring your audience to tears.

The solution? High impact charts that keep your audience glued to the screen.

What Are High Impact Charts?

High impact, professional-looking charts are designed to impress your audience. Hit ’em right between the eyes and they’ll keep coming back for more! If you want to create successful high impact charts you should make sure they share some or all of these characteristics:

  • Real life-like objects: people love the sense of “concreteness” you can get from a well-rendered 3D chart;
  • Animation: if you really want to grab the attention of your audience, animation is your safest bet. Use it to add suspense or dramatic effects (you can do this easily using PowerPoint);
  • Hyperlinks: add some hyperlinks to your charts and/or PowerPoint presentations (for example, add a link to a pie chart slice to jump to a detail chart); people love this kind of sophistication!
  • Strong colors: your audience uses bright reads and yellows and greens all the time. They are expecting nothing less;
  • Go to the point: the message should be clear and simple. Don’t add irrelevant details or details that suggest a different answer;
  • Don’t-make-me-think charts: all charts your audience may not be familiar with (like scatter plots) are off limits;
  • Don’t overdo: often people don’t know where to stop: a 3D pie chart with a single slice exploded is fine; if you explode them all, that’s just stupid.

What you Shouldn’t Do

You’ll want to appear sophisticated, you should avoid:

  • Office 2003 Charts: 3D charts in Office 2003 (Excel and PowerPoint) are badly rendered and chart defaults are ugly. Use Office 2007 or try to make your charts using a free online tool;
  • Clipart and background images: While it is perfectly acceptable (and recommended) to use clipart and background images to keep the attention of your audience, please make sure they are a) send the right emotional message and b) reveal your good taste; try to find suitable images in Flickr or Istockphoto;
  • 3D line charts: While 3D bar and pie charts look great, the more abstract nature of line charts make them unsuitable for 3D effects. Use drop shadows instead.
  • Too many charts in a single slide: Stick to one single idea and make your chart big enough to make sure it impacts even the farthest person in the room;
  • Don’t be excessively consistent. Establish a pattern and be consistent, but add some randomness to force people to keep paying attention. A good place to try this is slide transition.

This is not Data Visualization

OK, before regular readers unsubscribe en masse after reading this post, let me add some notes:

  • Solid data management and visualization principles result in an understanding of your data that goes much beyond the simple illustration of some random key indicators;
  • Most managers don’t really care about data visualization because of their own low literacy rate;
  • However, merit is defined by them, based on their biased knowledge;
  • If you want to climb the corporate ladder, what you do must be aligned with their merit criteria, and the way you design and present your data is no exception;
  • The more you know about data visualization the more options you have. Your persona will be defined by what you know and choose to show, not because you don’t know any better.

So, if your next presentation includes an exploded, 3D, flying pie chart, make sure ignorance is not the reason behind it.

There is an unmistakable tension between what data visualization experts preach and corporate practices. How can we find the right balance between a “purity” that takes you nowhere and a practice that makes you cringe? Share your thoughts in the comments…