Death to PowerPoint: Data Visualization – A New Consulting Tool
May 15 2012
As consultants we create and present an illegal number of PowerPoints, in part because it is a reliable and effective tool that we’ve become highly skilled at but also because it is the client’s preferred method of receiving information. Presentations used to be set apart for helping executives make important decisions. Now we spend most of our day sitting through presentations on status and having various pieces of information presented to us in bullet point format. Using PowerPoint as your primary method of sharing information dulls the effectiveness of the tool and bores your audience to tears. So what is a better method to effectively present information?
In my journey to solve this question, I discovered Edward Tufte, the father of data visualization. This comical graphic sums up how he feels about the tidal wave of PowerPoint presentations today’s employees face. Edward Tufte started out as a political economist with a background in statistics. All that changed after he published his book Visual Display in 1982. Tufte’s idea of converting raw data into easily digestible pictures blazed the trail for the new field of data visualization. In his essay "The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint”, Tufte criticizes that PowerPoint is a tool that forces material into a linear mold, oversimplifying the material. The tool is also geared towards aiding the presenter rather than informing the audience.
So how can we get ourselves to move away from PowerPoint, this crutch we’ve relied on and mastered? Maybe the idea isn’t to move away from it but to foster it’s alignment with the progression of technology, social media and the demand for information now. Data visualization and infographics are the means to bridge that gap.
Data visualization and infographics are very similar techniques (although there are schools of thought that would argue otherwise); they are the graphical representation of data. They illustrate information that would otherwise be taxing to process in text form - you can think of it as visual shorthand. Now it could be something as simple as a map or chart. However, the goal of data visualization is to provide insight into complex data by creating data rich visuals that allow the viewer to analyze complex data and understand the message without being explicitly told.
So what if we incorporated these concepts into PowerPoint or into all of our work products? Actually we have been doing it for years; it’s really no different than the charts and graphs we have been creating in Excel since the nineties’ which are very basic examples of data visualization. The use of visuals to display data to be seen rather than read is not a new concept but the techniques we use to do it today are. We need to leverage the data visualization and infographic tools to make our deliverables stand out and provide the continued quality service our clients expect.
Data Visualization can be used in:
- Organizational Assessment
- System performance/analysis
Infographics can be used in:
- Annual reports
- Risk analysis
- Impact analysis
- Status reports
- Board meetings
These lists are by no means comprehensive. There are an infinite amount of uses for these tools. They can be applied in any field, area of expertise and used for any audience. If data visualization and infographics can transform PowerPoint as we know it today think of what it can do for presentations, reporting, meeting facilitation, decision making, communications and so much more in your organization.
If you want to learn more about data visualization and infographics there is an abundance of information out there but we found these websites to be our go-tos.