A Perfect Presentation: Effective Data Visualization

Presenting data is an essential part of learning. It helps to process often difficult information. Presenting data to others in order for everyone to grasp a general concept can be a daunting task. Everybody perceives things differently and people have developed different kinds of learning methods that they prosper in. Many people use the help of visual aid to understand data, some need numerical information to be converted into word format to understand the breakdown of statistics, and a few people can look at a jumble of data and derive the necessary information that way. Knowing and understanding what data or information is can be quite difficult when so many disciplines use various methods, such as abbreviations, technical language, numbers, symbols, units of measurement, etc. When presenting very specific data to a very diverse crowd, many people may not be on the same page in regard to having full knowledge of what the speaker is presenting.

So how can one or a few speakers create a presentation that everybody, from tens to hundreds and even thousands of people can all understand simultaneously? Using visualization and data presentation techniques such as graphs, pictures, short videos, mapping and breaking down information properly, a speaker can reach broad audiences with their message.

It is all too common that we throw together a basic slideshow or presentation, include a lot of information, a few pictures then explain it all verbally and hope that it turns out well. People have a tendency to forget who they are presenting to, either over simplifying or not simplifying enough. Some presenters have a tendency to put their whole verbal portion on the presentation itself so the audience is just reading along with the speech. This would be effective if the presenter was perhaps incorporating a Disney sing-a-long, however for the most part that isn’t the case.

The fundamentals of demonstrating a proper presentation can be broken down into six steps:

  1. Simplifying: Keeping it simple or using layman’s terms can help a speaker reach a broader audience who may not be familiar with the topic. An important tip here is to try to engage with an audience without being patronizing or condescending.
  2. Less is More: The speaker is the one who is verbalizing and doing the speaking. If only words were involved there wouldn’t be much need for a presentation, therefore the presentation should include things which the presenter cannot provide alone. The presenter should not include all of his speaking points in the presentation. They should use point form, pictures, graphs, mapping, timelines, and short videos to emphasize their talking points.
  3. Ask then Answer: Ask relevant questions then answer them. The speaker should have a great deal of knowledge about the topic they are talking about and possess the ability to provide questions and answers, also answers for general audience questions. By posing questions to the audience the speaker is engaging them in a more personable way.
  4. Visual Representation: Visual aid helps to process and solidify points in a way that is easy to understand. The use of shapes, colours and patterns will clarify and make the presentation more interesting.
  5. Charisma: A presenter and their presentation are symbiotic. While one half may take the brunt of the presentation, the other half must also carry it’s weight. A great speaker with a poor presentation or a poor speaker with a great presentation are, in essence the same: not effective.
  6. Audience Interaction: People don’t necessarily like sitting down and being “talked to”, people like having their questions to be asked and their voices to be heard and by getting the audience involved through participation can really amplify and even enhance the presentation itself!

Presenting data and information can be both fun and rewarding. It is a very intimate way to present your research and discuss topics you are passionate about. I hope these tips help make a somewhat daunting task easier for those who may be nervous about presenting.


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