Question: What’s the first thing you do when someone makes a claim?
Answer: Ask for proof, of course. It’s only human to want to know exactly where someone got their information, so you can critically assess its legitimacy.
Well, this principle also holds true when you’re giving a presentation.
Establishing credibility and trust with your audience means clearly presenting data so they can understand it and making it clear where you’ve sourced the information. Start by avoiding the obvious data-related pitfalls. Here are five common mistakes to avoid when presenting data to an audience.
Mistake #1: Avalanching Your Audience with Data
Data is an excellent way to prove your points. But too much data quickly becomes overwhelming for your audience—especially because they typically have to digest it on the spot. Too much data too quickly becomes overwhelming, which means viewers will stop retaining your key points.
Make sure you’re incorporating a reasonable amount of data. Aim to make it digestible above all else. Avoid inserting data visualizations into your presentation that are overwhelmingly complex. More data does not necessarily enhance legitimacy; it will just obscure your takeaway points and frustrate attendees.
Mistake #2: Forgetting to Make the Conclusion Obvious
Think of your presentation like a meal. Is data the main course? No. It’s really more accurate to think of the data you’re presenting as the appetizer. It complements and precedes the main course—your conclusions.
Data is extremely useful in setting up your main points. But your audience won’t be satiated unless you go on to explain the data in an applicable context. Consider the case of a marketing manager delivering a quarterly report to their team: There’s a huge difference between merely delivering metrics and explaining how campaign performance should affect the team’s goals and actions moving forward.
Data is not the be-all and end-all; it’s merely the foundation for further conclusions, which you must clearly explain for your audience’s benefit.
Mistake #3: Assuming the Audience Can Interpret Graphs Quickly
As Poll Everywhere states, data presentation is only as good as its audience’s ability to retain the information at hand. Expecting your audience to instantly understand graphs is a bit like expecting TV viewers to catch every word of the side effects listed at the end of drug ads—without enough time to process the information, it ends up as an unintelligible mess.
The best thing you can do as a presenter is slow down and thoroughly explain your data visualization models. Something as simple as pointing out what the X and Y axes represent will help audience members make sense of what they’re seeing. Remember, you’ve had plenty of time to digest these models, but they may be all new to your viewers. Rushing through important pieces of data will only serve to frustrate and intimidate people in the audience.
Mistake #4: Misleading Your Audience with Visual Aids
Some graphs are downright misleading and deceptive. Whether accidentally or purposely, it’s simply deceitful to use skewed visual aids to prove a point. Hint: Imagine a bar chart that doesn’t start with 0. Charts like these provide an untruthful sense of scale to the audience. Whether you’re making your own visuals or citing others’, make sure they’re not misleading before you share them.
Mistake #5: Presenting Data Without Attributing a Source
The only way audience members can evaluate the legitimacy of your data is if they know the source. A statistic from the Centers for Disease Control holds more sway than one from a random blog on the web, right? Cite your sources as you go.
If you avoid these mistakes when presenting data to an audience, you’ll be able to enhance your points using the power of data without falling into any common traps.