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Five data slide rules

May 21, 2010

This is my version of Nancy Duarte’s summary of some ‘rules’ for data-content slides.

Example graph

You’ll quickly see that the fundamentals don’t change no matter what goes on the slide, but data slides have some specific issues, too. Anyway, here are her five rules:

  • Tell the truth.
  • Get to the point.
  • Pick the right format for the data.
  • Highlight what’s important.
  • Keep it simple.

Slides with lots of data are a special problem because of an issue that Tufte believes is fatal for projected slides of the type we so often use. That issue is resolution. The resolution of a projected slide is low and if you keep it big enough for the audience to see, it gets worse. Sometimes the right answer is, therefore, to not project it. Hand it out in printed form and use a slide to summarize the key point for discussion.

Another key point about data slides is this:

Data slides aren’t about the data. They are about the meaning of the data.

Far too many presenters don’t “get it” when it comes to the distinction here. Just throwing data on the screen or on printed pages isn’t good enough-creating meaning with the data is the point.

  • What does the data say?
  • How does it support your story point?
  • Why should the audience care?

And remember the “Brain Rules” 3-second principle: If the audience can’t see the point of the slide in 3-seconds, then you need to work on it so they can. For that, I refer you back to the prior post on how to make things simple: less-is-more, get it organized, create white space.

Not every presentation is data-centric, but many of the ones I do are. Whenever you’ve got data to present, it’s important that you understand that data charts are different and need special attention.


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