Tag Archives: presentations

How to better design dashboards and reports. Data Storytelling in BI products design.

Not everyone has an opportunity to be on the first line and present data in front of the audience. Many are silent data heroes at the back of the stage. They constantly work with data to make sense of them and pass it on to others.

I know from my experience that in many organizations people work in silos, and it can be a tangible barrier in delivering well-designed, actionable dashboards. The best option to overcome this phenomenon is to make an effort and find end-users to gather their requirements and tailor reports for their specific needs. Only in this way you can find out what the true story should be built around a particular data set. The rest is a piece of cake.

Nevertheless, if you are one of that data heroes, to be honest, you are the true master here. You decide which data sets will be distributed within your organization and to what extent.  So, you may not be presenting the results in front of the audience, but they are likely seeing them with your eyes.

However, it is a double-edged sword. Having great influence results in having huge responsibility. It is a challenge for every communicator, and you are a kind of communicator because you prepare and hand down information.

I will just present only a few which I find very useful, and I often use them in my work. These technics are easy to remember and easy to implement, so everyone can benefit from them. They have similar usage as linguistic construction which can influence you to buy or do something.

We will go through:

  • Colour
  • Size
  • Shape
  • Common region
  • Position

COLOR

Humans see colours, maybe not in such spectacular range like other animals (check this article about hummingbirds), but still it is one of the most important senses that helps us understand the world and allows us to run away from wild animals in the jungle.

When it comes to designing dashboards, use colours to lead the audience from point to point. It is important to use just several ones. There is a good rule of five. Take five colours, assign to them meaning as for example white – the main colour for background, grey – major of data in data visualization, dark blue – numbers, black – text and icons, and orange – focal points. You can extend orange to orange and green if you want to differentiate positive and negative results.

In such way, you use colours on purpose and teach the audience their role in conveying the message.

To illustrate that we can compare these two pictures. Both charts present the same information – sales of regions. But the chart on the left side doesn’t promote any region. We can see all of them equally. It just aggregates information and presents them on the graph. However, the chart on the right side emphasises one of the regions (yes, that chart is created for the north region manager) by making it orange ( the darkest colour) and the rest regions greyish and tells a story about this specific region performance. The rest of the regions give context to the story.

Due to that simple change, you draw attention to one region and force others to look at it closely with avoiding special interest in other regions.

SHAPE / SIZE

What else you can use to push some information in front of another? Humans can see easily changes in sizes or shapes, so why not to use it for our purpose? Especially when we remember about people who have some colour seeing difficulties. Size and shape are another visual channel which can be used to spotlight some data. Make it bigger, make it stronger.

When we change solid line of North to dashed one and thicken it, our brain processes information even faster than before, because we use three visual channels to code this information: colour, shape, and size.

Even when we take out colour and leave visualization black and white (which sometimes serves the best for better contrast), we can still achieve the same result.

Size cannot be introduced in all visualizations. Would be hard to do it with bar chart. But regarding shape it is much easier. You can use pattern to fill in North bar.

Size is essential for presenting numbers. Differing numbers sizes, we control which of them play the first fiddle and which ones are providing additional information. Shape can be manifested in font type or its boldness. But we must remember here about the parent rule of readability. There is a general rule that on dashboards we use sans serif fonts because they are without any additional decorations and work better for displaying on screens.

Unexpectedly, font types can evoke some emotions or can reflect word meaning in their look. It is especially handy when you are about to design infographics.  See examples.

COMMON REGION

Do you know that people tend to group and interpret objects which are in the close or shared areas? This principle has even its own name as the Law of Common Region and was devised by Gestalt group in 1920s.

I’m a hard user of that techniques when it comes to design dashboards. A single piece of information itself has no impact, however, when you connect a few dots together, the message can be powerful. To make it happen, it is important to create a common area for these elements. We can do this by adding background or border and create visual boundaries.

POSITION

Studies regarding how people view websites, commonly known as Eyetracking, are consistent in results. The area with the greatest attention is the top-left corner of the page follows by the top-right corner, then the down-left and the last one is the down-right corner (see image below).

source

Of course, that we can use it to support data storytelling! Just divide a dashboard area into four quadrants and follow these two simple rules:

  • In 1&2 place information which you want to highlight as KPIs, the crucial changes in trends, threats and opportunities, and components which are essential to navigate on the dashboard.  Do not forget about the title. Use the best practices of designing UX (check this link about best practices in UX and find out what we have in common with goldfish).
  • In 3 & 4 are additional information that broadens perspectives or sheds another light on the already presenting data. At the bottom is the great place to place information about last data refresh, or report confidentiality.

Data storytelling is a mix of knowledge about data visual presentation, design and people perception. Having these components in place you are armed with a very powerful tool, which makes the audience listening to your voice…, even when this voice is behind dashboards that you deliver.

Storytelling structures that support presenting data.

Key points:

  1. How to structure your presentation to keep the audience attention?
  2. What to avoid to not overwhelm people?

Many professionals struggle with conveying their messages in an effective way. They often fail to convince others with their ideas or perspective. Most of the time the reason why it happens is poor delivery of the presentation. It is a hard job to present a topic in a logical way that does not confuse the audience. The second challenge is to create an engaging and exciting experience for the audience. Things even get more complicated when you use numbers and figures in your presentations.

Why do you need storytelling to present data?

The simple answer is because numbers are too abstract for the human’s brain. Presenting or talking about numbers is not such a piece of cake. Thousand years ago, nobody had to analyse sales trends or try to understand what influences shipments delivery.  Data analysis and data visualization is relatively a new demand, and a lot of people struggle to gain this new skill.

If you do not weave your facts and charts into a story framework, you overwhelm your audience and lose their attention, and in the end, you fail with your ideas.

Since the beginning of humanity, people are storytellers. For ages, they have been passing on the information by narration about incredible actions of heroes, distanced journeys, and the most important, gained wisdom and knowledge through those stories. For humans, the narration is the most appealing and easy way to consume and remember information. The message “Do not eat berries” sounds flat compared to “Do not eat berries because half of the neighbourhood tribe died after ate them.”  And what are the most important, stories ignite emotions which drive people to take decisions and actions more often than logical facts and data (if you doubt this, check the latest studies of behavioral economists)

The Basics

I bet that 100% of corporate presentations have the purpose of influencing people to take action or decisions. Most of the time we:

  1. solve some problems, and we need allies and sponsors to support our ideas,
  2. break a status quo and introduce a change in the organisation’s business model to be ready for future challenges, and we must convince and inspire others,
  3. pass information needed to make strategic decisions

So, first, you must decide the purpose of the presentation. However, sometimes I have an impression that some speakers present data analysis for themselves. They just want to boost what they found, but they lack the audience perspective.  There is the truth worth remembering: people are interested only in themselves.

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

Dale Carnegie

When you prepare your presentation, focus on benefits for the audience. The simply Five Ws + How technique can support you in this task.

  1. Who – think about people to whom you are going to present.
  2. Why – think what kind of questions they can have or ask them directly, and try to give them answers or feed them with insights that help to find them, on the other hand, do not forget about what you want to achieve.
  3. What – now when you know their perspective, you can start analysing data, and create a storyline.
  4. How – this is a time to start thinking about the structure of the presentation and the result which you want to achieve.
  5. When – at which time you will deliver a presentation is important as well, check out a corporate schedule, if the important event is coming shortly, it would be better to hurry up.
  6. Where – make sure that place is convenient for your audience, there is enough room for everyone, and the place has required equipment.

Let us move further to HOW to design a presentation as a true storyteller.

Storytelling structures

Every good story has three points to cover. Every book, drama or movie follow that simple structure. Nevertheless, how and when you cover will change a narration.

  • Conflict – it is a background for the story: a current situation or state, past actions and discomfort it makes.
  • Climax – it is an essence of the story, critical point, the whole story is told to convey this one message.
  • Resolution – a new desired state or actions need to be taken.

Let us check how we can juggle these points to get different narrations.

Storytelling techniques good for presenting data.

When you present something to the audience, you want to make them listen to you. Several techniques help you achieve this experience.

The Narrative ARC

One of the most common structures is the arc. It is a very logical structure with straightforward, easy to follow stages for the presenter and the audience. It is the extension of the conflict, climax and resolution. It follows:

  1. Exposition – this is a background, a current state, a time snapshot, circumstances. All of these establish the context of your story. It is an excellent place to reveal all possible questions which your audience can have.
  2. Rising action – in this point, a conflict is presented. It can be an unsatisfied situation or result. At this stage, to add some tensions, describe some risks and threats to the audience if the status quo remains, and future possibilities which you will cover further.
  3. Climax – the critical or turning point, the undoubted evidence that some decision must be made. It can be your main findings.
  4. Falling action – at this stage, different conflict solutions can be presented with pros and cons.
  5. Resolution – final recommendation, needed decisions, actions or solutions.

In media res

This structure immediately moves the audience to the essence of your message. This strategy has on purpose to catch the audience attention and engagement. The structure follows:

  1. Climax – the critical or turning point, the undoubted evidence that some decision must be made. It can be your main findings. At this stage, to add some tensions, describe some risks and threats to the audience if the status quo remains, and future possibilities which you will cover further.
  2. Conflict – this is a background, a current state, a time snapshot, circumstances. All of these establish the context of your story. Reveal at this stage all possible questions which your audience can have.
  3. Resolution – final recommendation, needed decisions, actions or solutions.

This structure can be highly effective when presenting to senior managers or executives who are always in a hurry and like to go straight to the point, and you need some decisions or actions from their side.

Dos and Don’ts

Last but not least. You can tell the best story, but numbers need to be shown. What is more, people are visual creatures. For most of us, to understand means to see. Designing the presentation, consider the below tips to avoid overwhelming the audience.

  • Too many charts on one slide – it is better to unfold visuals to more slides instead of clutter one slide with too many elements. A thoughtfully adjusted number of slides will support your story and lead the audience step by step.
  • Too much text – the same situation is with text. Good presentation is economical in text. Just a few of the most important words, insights or phrases. So do not expose your audience to the wall of the text.
  • Too small fonts – this one relates to the previous. If you do not have the wall of text on your slide, there is room for readable size fonts. To adjust fonts size, consider the conference room size. The fonts for the axis should be at least 12.
  • Too small visuals – similar with fonts size. When using visuals, make sure that these are big enough to be visible to the audience
  • Unreadable fonts – some font types are hard to read. They look exciting, but in the end, they are slowing down the decoding information process. Stick to simply fonts like Calibri, Arial, Verdana.
  • Keep a short harmonic colour palette – colours evoke emotions (but this is a topic for another post). Build a colour palette around five to seven colours and stick to it in your presentation. Decide which colour would be the main one and cover 60% of the presentation deck. The following 30% leave for secondary colour, and the rest 10% for colour, which will be used for highlighting the most critical information.
  • Keep agenda visible – save a place on the slide for displaying agenda. It can be at the bottom of the slide, on the side or on the top. The audience is provided with information in which part of the presentation they are right now.
  • Do not add page number – if you are going to display 50 slides, it is better to keep it secret 😊
  • Use grid – the human eye does not like asymmetry. The grid can help you align all objects with themselves and keep a clean and orderly layout of slides.