1 Present your findings as a story
Avoid the building block approach of presenting evidence i.e. “this is what we found from the literature…” “This was our methodology…” “These are the findings…” “These are our recommendations. To engage your audience and get them to commit to your presentation you have to tell a story. It should have a beginning, middle and an end. The beginning is setting the stage and should include the setting, where and when does the story take place, the main characters, what is driving the action, the desired outcomes and the solution. The middle should be the bulk of the presentation. This should include the action taken and what has been learnt. Finally, the end should be the resolution of the problem and should be framed in way that the audience has learnt something that can be applied.
The narrative approach is one that identifies the key issues or factors that relate to the problem under investigation, and then, in an ‘attacking’ way, focuses directly on these issues, drawing in appropriate evidence as the story unfolds.
2 Don’t make the story longer than it should be
Of course if your presentation has been marketed as a 40 event then it’s not appropriate to finish after 20 minutes. However, it’s important to present only what is necessary and focus on delivering a high impact message. Filling time with unnecessary information will result in the key messages being lost.
3 Think like a designer
Presenting an aesthetically pleasing presentation can increase its impact as well as gain credibility. Therefore, the following need to be considered:
Choose an effective visual – Information is more easily recalled when presented visually. While there are many different types of traditional visual display of information, a handful will generally work for the majority of needs. If possible avoid the use of tables in a live presentation as you will lose the attention of your audience as they read it. If you need to present tables let the data take centre stage. Pie charts should also be avoided despite their popularity as it can be difficult to estimate relative size. Having labelled segments just adds to the clutter. Whenever possible pie charts should be replaced by a horizontal bar chart as when the bars are aligned with a common baseline it’s easier to assess relative size. A golden rule of data visualisation is never use 3D. Doing so introduces unnecessary chart elements as well as difficulty in interpreting plotted values.
If you want to move beyond the traditional data visualisations, novel visualisations such as video clips are easier to retain, but require more know how.
Avoid clutter – Clutter can be a significant contributor to excessive or extraneous cognitive load. These are the visual elements that take up space but, do not add to the understanding of the information. Ways to remove clutter include:
- Remove chart borders as they are often unnecessary
- Remove gridlines as they compete with the data or at least make them thin using a light colour like grey
- Use data markers only when necessary
- Label data directly as this avoids going back and forth between legend and the data
- Use consistent colour
- Focus your audience’s attention – A key factor of your presentation is to get your audience to focus their attention to where you want them to. Preattentive attributes like size, colour position on a page are powerful tools first, to direct your audience’s attention to where you want them to focus and secondly, to create a visual hierarchy to help your audience process the information the way you want them to.
4 Present your data so it’s digestible – Having more data does not mean your presentation will have more impact and in doing most likely will result in loss of the key messages. Ask yourself whether each number is saying something important. Consider using fewer numbers, for example, rather than before and after show the movement as this is reduces your audience’s cognitive workload. Avoid presenting data in the order it comes from the data collection process or analysis. Consider for example presenting data in ascending or descending order e.g. quality of life scores in descending order by age. Reduce the number of significant digits as well as recurring symbols.
5 Don’t read from your slides – Reading from your slides is almost a criminal act. Your slides are there to enhance your presentation. Reading from your slides is lazy, redundant and fails to engage your audience and your back is more likely to be to the audience. Remember you should tell a story, not read a script.
6 Use secondary sources –When appropriate drawing on secondary data sources can be useful to add credibility to your findings. However, you will need to give credit as necessary.