Quantitative market research companies come back with pages and pages and pages of data in PowerPoint. It is tempting to cut and paste to "add the survey results in the presentation". Not so fast, let's clean things up first.

  1. Find out what the research actually says. This is the most important step. There is meaning in 2 levels. Level 1 is to discover what trends the data displays (not always obvious from a randomly generated bar chart or a dense table of numbers). Then level 2: is this an important insight? A segmentation or cut is not always meaningful, sometimes data points do not actually vary that much. Sometimes conclusions are obvious / not surprising, not interesting.
  2. Ask for access to the original research data in a spreadsheet to find patterns, trends that have not been put in the final report of the research company
  3. Clean up the graphs you want to use (or even better, create them from scratch with just the data you need):
    1. Move non-essential statistical lingo/jargon/details in small print to the foot note: n values, standard deviations, etc. etc. are not worth the screen real estate in a stand up presentation. The person who wants to read them, will find them in the foot note. (Exception: certain scientific disciplines where one statistical value is all that matters, in that case make a very prominent chart with just that value.)
    2. Cut non-essential filler words from the data series labels, think as if you were writing headlines for a newspaper article or blog post. Simplify questions that were asked to respondents, put the original questions in the footnote or in an appendix chart.
    3. Re-sort data series to match the point you want to make. 
    4. Take out tick marks, make bars/columns fatter, take out Excel labels and titles, and insert your own in PowerPoint/Keynote, round numbers, fix chart colours to match your corporate colour scheme
    5. Where necessary, add circles or arrows to highlight the point you want to make. Adjust the colours to emphasise your points (apply accent colours correctly)

Art: Edward Burne-Jones, The Mirror of Venus, 1875 

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