You’ve researched, analyzed and crunched the numbers. You have data. A lot of it. You’re ready to present. Before you fire up PowerPoint, and cut and paste from Excel, it’s useful to think about how people are looking at your data, and what they’ll be looking for.
In a business setting, your executives and leadership teams, your customers and clients are not looking to trip you up, they have specific questions in mind. Generally speaking they’re looking for trends, anomalies, and correlations, tracking targets, and searching for proof.
It’s in your best interest to figure out what you want to show, and the point you want to make, before you get up and present.
If you can make better business decisions, if you can improve speed, you can execute better. So much of your audience will be looking at the data to spy trends. Seeing which way the data is trending allows them to anticipate what might happen next week, next quarter or next year. If everything is moving in the right direction, the thought will probably be do nothing, or do more of what you’re currently doing. If it’s moving in the wrong direction, anticipate being asked what plans you have in place to reverse the trend.
There are two types of anomalies. Mistakes in the data, which you want to correct before you do the presentation, and the good kind. If you can find an anomaly, where something is going against the grain, that tells you something. Perhaps a warning sign of a potential problem, or an opportunity. Problem or opportunity, make sure you know the ‘why’ behind the anomaly and are ready to come up with a plan.
Just putting a bar chart out there, the numbers on where you are, without being able to compare it to where you wanted to go, is pretty pointless. Your audience wants to compare the reported numbers to your intended budget or target, and know easily if you’re on track or off track. On-track, you have nothing to worry about. Off-track? have a set of corrective actions to hand.
If you’re making an argument or pitching for something, it could be based on an insight the data is telling you. Your audience will be looking for causation between A and B, and trying to track the logic of your argument. For example, when we put the sales training program in place, our sales revenue increased. Therefore I should keep training the sales people.
You are making an argument, and you need to back it up with proof. Your audience is looking for evidence to validate their actions or assumptions, not invalidate them. Make sure you have ironclad data if you want to break a tightly held worldview.
Gavin is a founding partner at fassforward consulting group. He blogs about PowerPoint, Presenting, Communication and Message Discipline at makeapowerfulpoint.com. You can follow him on twitter @powerfulpoint.