4 tips for using data visualization in a board presentation

4-tips-for-using-data-visualization-in-a-board-presentation

Knowing how to convey your message in a presentation is key to helping a board understand why your pitch is important. Here’s how to do it.

Image: yucelyilmaz, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Whether you’re dealing with big data or standard data, a picture is worth a thousand words. With data visualization techniques, data can be formulated into bar charts, pie charts, graphs, and other kinds of visuals, helping your audience visualize the important facts you’re trying to convey. 

According to Mordor Intelligence, a market intelligence and advisory firm, the data visualization market is expected to grow by a 9% compound annual growth (CAGR) between now and 2025. “The emerging nature of data visualization is encouraging a shift toward analytically driven businesses, where users can explore data in various forms of graphical representation, which were initially only available in tabular reports,” Mordor said in a study: “Data Visualization Market–Growth, Trends, and Forecast (2020-2025).” 

SEE: Big data’s role in COVID-19 (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

These data visualizations are indispensable for high-impact board presentations. However, for anyone who stands before a scrutinizing board with a presentation that tries to sell an investment or an idea, it’s imperative that the data analytics staff, the big data miners, and everyone else working behind the data scenes is also on board and on target to develop the best visualization of the data.

A good way to describe a well-prepared board presentation that uses data visualization is to think of it as a story. 

The story consists of four components: The visualization of the data; the backup or drill-down data that supports the visualization; an abbreviated narrative of the story in print; and the narrative of the story that the presenter tells in real time.

When I advise companies, I encourage them to think about all four of these components and to make sure that not only the end presenter, but the entire data science and IT staff behind the presentation addresses these components.

SEE: How to create your first Tableau Software data visualization chart (TechRepublic)

From the standpoint of a data project, here are those four components with their action steps:

  1. Data visualization

What message does the presenter want to get across to the board, and how will the data support the message? The assumption here is that there already is data that supports the message, so the emphasis is on finding the best visualization of the data. 

For example, if you’re addressing a science-oriented board with an engineering project, the best data visualization might be in a graph form. If the project is marketing and you’re proposing a change in product mix, bar or pie charts might be ideal. If you’re talking about the infection distribution of a pandemic and offering an attack plan, a map-based data visualization might serve you well. There are myriad choices for data visualization. The job of the presenter and others assigned to the project is to find the optimal one.

2. Data drill-down

For every summary data visualization, the board is going to ask detailed questions about the underlying data. 

The presenter should have a good idea about the questions that are likely to be asked. He or she should work with the IT staff to ensure that a drill-down application for the summary data visualization is available so that with simple point and click during the presentation, more detailed supporting data can be displayed.

3. Abbreviated narrative in print

It is good presentation practice to include a brief written description on each data visualization that you present. This helps the board focus.

4. In-person narrative

Most important, it’s not good enough for presenters to just parrot the words written on data visualization slides. The presenter must be prepared to give a more detailed explanation of what each data visualization speaks to and what it means for the business. This personal narrative should flow naturally, and it should be in the presenter’s own words. This lets the board know that the message is authentic and that the presenter believes in it.

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