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## How to present numbers more effectively

PRESENT NUMBERS MORE EFFECTIVELY

My family and I just returned from a fantastic vacation on a cruise ship. On our last day we attended a Q&A session with the captain and a few of his officers. People were very interested in the details of the ship. The captain quoted a few numbers:

• Weight: 85,000 tons
• Installed Power: 48,000 HP
• Length: 264 meters
• Beam: 32 meters
Our 85,000 ton cruise ship

While the figures are certainly impressive I realized that they do no mean much. My boys asked the obvious question: “How much is that?” The numbers are just too difficult to understand. Indeed: What does 85,000 tons really mean? (Have you ever lifted something that heavy?) Plain digits rarely resonate with people – they do not communicate a story and they are often hard to understand. And this can be problematic in business when we present figures. We typically present them to tell a story and to instill action but the sheer nakedness of the digits hides the true meaning.  That’s what happened during the presentation of the cruise captain.

CONTEXT AND MEANING

A better approach is to present the numbers and put them into context with something we are all familiar with. It helps people understand. This is especially helpful for larger numbers like the examples above. Let’s take a look:

• 85,000 tons is about as heavy as the combined weight of 56,667 BMW 5 series sedans.
• 48,000 horsepowers is the equivalent of 240 BMW 525d limousines pulling in unison
• 264 meters is as long as 2.6 regular soccer fields
• 32 meters is about half as wide as a soccer field

Here we go: 2.6 soccer fields long, with a huge stack of cars on top and a few hundred Beamers pulling the thing. Now that puts this into perspective and it is actually quite impressive. My kids understand that and they had a serious look of surprise on their faces.

STEVE JOBS – THE MASTER

One person who has perfected the technique of explaining and making numbers shine is Steve Jobs. He has delivered some classic explanations in recent history:

•  “1000 songs in your pocket.” ….Jobs is explaining what a 5GB iPod is able to do
• “Our market share is greater than BMW or Mercedes in the car industry.” ….Jobs was critized about the low market share number of 5% in the computer industry back in 2003

When you present numbers, try to put context around them. Compare them and relate them to something relevant. Pick something that your audience is familiar with. This technique is extremely effective and can really amplify your message. And it is not all that difficult. Best of all: you can use it in many different situations. Whether it is in a business meeting, your next presentation or to simply explain a few things to your kids.

“Remember, data is a representation of real life. It’s not just a bucket of numbers. There are stories in that bucket. There is meaning, truth and beauty.” Nathan Yau

P.S.: Speaking about context. Here is a fine example. We happened to spot the marvelous “A” yacht of Russian billionaire Andrei Melnitschenko. Look at the first photo and then scroll down to look at the second one. The first photo makes it difficult to assess it’s true size. It is hard to believe that this ship is a bit longer than a soccer field. The second photo provides the context of the fishing boat.

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## 8 ideas for delivering a better demo

Demos are a critical part of every business analytics implementation. There are frequent occasions during any project where we have to show present tools & processes: At the beginning, we might show the new software to our users to educate them. Later on we might want to review a prototype and we need to solicit productive feedback based on the demo. Training sessions require us to teach the new process and tool while also obtaining buy-in from the business. Overall, I would argue that being able to deliver a great demo is a critical skill for every business analytics professional.

Categories

## Making data sing in presentations

The other day, I made a bold statement about presentations: many of them suck and they especially suck when it comes to presenting data. Real meaning is often hidden in complex and dense charts. The problem is sometimes amplified by poor communication skills.

PRESENTATIONS ARE DIFFERENT

There is a fundamental difference between sitting in your office analyzing data and sitting in a meeting listening to a presentation. The second setting requires a lot of focus. Listening can be really hard at times and it is easy to loose track when we drop our attention for a few seconds. And there is no rewind button. Every time a new slide comes up our attention shifts to that slide. Our brain tries to make sense of it. Following the speaker during that brief moment is tough. The more complex a slide the longer this moment lasts and the higher the probability that the audience gets lost. To ensure that our messages are understood, we have to be thoughtful about how we present our data. Here are a few ideas that you can use to make your data sing:

1. VISUALIZE

One of the basic things I recommend is to utilize charts for presentation slides whenever we can. Reviewing raw data in a presentation setting is extremely difficult. We should not have to stare at a projector screen to make sense of data. It takes away too much focus.
Sure, there might be cases when people need to see that raw data but we can always share printed documents as backup materials if necessary.  Make it simple for your listeners and visualize the data. Look at the two contrasting examples below: it takes a while to consume the table, but the line chart immediately makes sense. Even on first sight.

2. CHART TYPES

Make sure to carefully select your charts, though. Not every visualization lends itself to delivering a crisp message. Once again, the things that may work for us at our desk do not necessarily have to work when we follow a presentation. The rule of thumb is to choose the chart that can most easily be understood. That might sometimes require us to drop some information. Once again: we can always supplement our slide show with backup materials. If you have difficulties selecting the right type, take a look at some advice on this site.

3. SIMPLIFY

But even charts can either be too complex or we load them up with too much noise: 3D, logos, gridlines, pictures and unwise choice of colors. As a result, viewers and listeners have a hard time understanding. Presentation guru and author Garr Reynolds calls for a maximization of the signal to noise ratio: eleminate everything that could stand in the way (noise) of delivering our message (signal). Take a look at the example below. There is too much going on and our eyes tend to jump around.

Let’s reduce the noise and focus on the just the signal (below). Isn’t this much better?

4. MAKE IT EASY

We should eliminate everything that stands in the way of being understood by the audience. In other words, we should make it as easy as possible for them to quickly catch the important items. We can do this by amplifying the signal. Take a look at the slide above: the headline features the key message. Also, note how the 2009 bar in the prior chart immediately pops out: This must be the year our CEO left! I can see it immediately. A simple but effective trick.

5. CREATE FOCUS

Too many slides are way too busy and people easily loose attention. My basic rule is that we should only deliver one message per slide. Don’t try to cram everything into a single slide. Remember: slides are cheap! Nobody is forcing you to deliver your message in less than ten slides. It’s up to you to decide. Allow the audience to absorb the information and then move on with your story. A simple and single message on each slide ensures that the attention is quickly refocused on you – the presenter.

The slide above is way too busy. We jump around and try to figure things out. But let’s apply the rules and also create focus on a single message that we will spread across two slides:

NEXT STEPS

Try to incorporate these tips into your next presentation. They will make a big difference. And it does not have to be complicated. Applying these things will help you make meetings more effective. And by doing that you can make a big contribution towards making sure that the investment in Business Analytics does not go down the drain when we put our information on slides. We owe it to ourselves and to our colleagues.

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## Data + Powerpoint = Wasted Time?

Let me be blunt and honest: Too many presentations and their accompanying slide decks absolutely suck. And they especially suck when it comes to displaying and discussing data. Over the past few years, I have sat through days- worth of boring and utterly useless presentations. Such a waste! And there was so much potential: great data points and valuable information. But all this was well hidden behind complex and confusing charts. And believe it or not: that is a problem for business analytics.