Need to present data? Read this first.

Data is everywhere. “Big data” might even be the buzz word of 2015. As ubiquitous as data might be, it won’t mean anything if you can’t make sense of it for your audience.

How many data-centric presentations have you sat through that show slide after slide of things like this:

DataViz1 (Hans Rosling)

DataViz2 (Hans Rosling)

DataViz3 (Hans Rosling)

DataViz4 (Hans Rosling)

Left to their own devices, these data sets aren’t all that interesting, and they don’t mean a ton. But, if you watch Hans Rosling present this information, you’ll be riveted (whether you have 18 minutes to watch the entire video or just 5 minutes to watch a short excerpt, Mr. Rosling offers a clinic on how to present information in a compelling, easy-to-understand format).

What are some of the techniques Hans Rosling incorporates into his talk that could be transferable to your next presentation:

  1. Caring about the information. Many presenters who are invited to speak in front of a group – academics, scientific symposia, doctors – mistake a nonchalant, monotone voice with professionalism. They’re not the same thing. If you click the play button on Hans Rosling’s talk, and then close your eyes and listen to his passion, you know his data is important without even seeing it.
  2. Finding the story. Data tells a story. And good story tellers use a narrative arc (initial problem, conflict, suspense, resolution) to get from the beginning to the end. In his talk, Mr. Rosling sets up his entire story by talking about his students’ misconception of what characterizes the developed vs. developing world. He goes on to share a variety of data sets that disprove those misconceptions. Throughout his talk, he gives the audience a reason to care about the data.
  3. Dynamic imagery. Too many data-centric presentations include only a table or perhaps a graph or PowerPoint-generated SmartArt. While you may not be able to create captivating data animation like you’ll see in Hans Rosling’s work, take note of how he offers a series of snapshots of how the data changes over time. Including more than one (or two) glimpses of the data and spending some time on the chronology of how your data travelled from the starting point to the ending point is at least as important (and interesting) and the end data set.

Perhaps your next presentation is time-limited and you don’t feel you’ll be able to incorporate all of these elements into a 10-minute session. Think again. Hans Rosling is only given 18 minutes to share his data, and he provides at least 4 or 5 different ways to splice and dice his information.

Do you have an example of an amazing way that you’ve seen data presented? Let’s hear about it in the comment section.

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