Ditch the graphs and get to the point

Why including graphs and charts in your presentation can be a waste of time

by Lyndon Nicholson

Originally published on Medium

Far too many times have I sat through a presentation and uttered to myself, ‘get to the point’. More often than not this has been caused by the sight of too many graphs and charts in the presentation, and a presenter who takes the long way round explaining what they mean.

I’ve never been a fan of gratuitous graph usage in a presentation as they are often unnecessary. In their simplest form, a graph or chart is designed to show a change in data, i.e. has a particular metric or key indicator gone up or down?

But graphs, as useful and as essential to business as they are, don’t always deserve inclusion in your presentation. Not if you want to keep your audience engaged, that is.

Understanding the data

The reason you don’t cram your slides with blocks of text is because you actually want your audience to understand you. Nobody can read your slides while also listening to you speak. It’s for the same reason that I’m not writing this while listening to an audio book.

The same issues occur when a graph or chart appears in a presentation. Your audience immediately feel they have to interpret it, regardless of how simple it might be. A bar chart might contain only two bars, one representing last year’s profits and the other this year’s, but understanding it will take them time and effort.

So get to the point. If you’re there to proudly show off that profits have indeed increased over last year, make your point directly. Scrap the complicated and convoluted graphs and tell your audience what you want them to know, as simply as you can. ‘Profits up 8%’, for example.

ditch the presentations graphs

Text over visuals

It sounds like I’m being hypocritical. After all, I normally push colleagues and counsel clients to ditch text in favour of visuals. But I do that in order to simplify their message as much as possible, and a graph or chart isn’t always the simplest way to drive home a point.

However, not all presentations are delivered in a grand hall. Plus, not all have a self-policing audience who know to politely leave questions about your graphs and charts to the end. More often than not you’ll find yourself presenting with your laptop to a small group of people — or even one-to-one. Questions may come at any time. What do you do if one of those people asks you to back up your claims?

If you’re pitching or presenting in a sales environment, having access to the graph or chart that your slide is summarising can help. Place a clickable link on the slide that leads to another, hidden slide. There you can place the graph from which you drew your data, allowing you to quickly access it on demand but (importantly) not be forced to show it if you don’t need to.

You can also provide complex graphics and charts as part of a physical handout. Audience members will probably expect to be offered a paper copy of your presentation anyway. So this is a good way of including those supporting — yet distracting — graphics.

The charts are out of the way, keeping your slides tidy and impactful. But they are also there should you need to call upon them.

To the point

So I’ll get to the point of helping you get to the point. Think again about including graphs and charts in your slides and focus instead on the point those visuals are trying to convey.

You’ll be helping your audience soak up the relevant information faster and easier, and in turn help yourself be better understood.