How can you present data so that your audience gets it? Whether you're presenting a budget, analyzing inventory or projecting sales figures, working with data in meetings can be tricky. To clearly convey the meaning behind the numbers, you need to pay special attention to how you deliver the figures. Consider these helpful guidelines on how to present data more effectively.

Check Audience Background
Do your meeting participants have a financial or accounting background? Are they people who work with numbers on a day-to-day basis? Presenting to number-crunching experts versus numerical novices requires a different approach and determines the speed and style of your presentation. Accounting folks know financial acronyms and jargon. They're also trained to see behind the number and think about its implications. Non-accounting folks may need data explained in simpler terms. If you’re unsure of your audience's background, always break down formulas, describe how you arrived at figures, write out acronyms and include any equations you may have used.

Seeing Is Believing
Show-and-tell really works! Use graphs, tables and charts to convey information and support your spoken words. A recent study printed in Information & Management Journal revealed that using visual aids enhances audience attention, comprehension and retention of material. Additionally, the use of visual aids also influences the audience's perception of the presenter. Presenters who used visual aids were regarded as more professional and credible than those who lacked visual aids.

Preparing Slides
Create slides to support spoken words and illustrate data. Use horizontal visuals instead of vertical – the bottom half of a vertical graph can be difficult to see and verticals are often hard to project in rooms with low ceilings. Follow these quick tips when preparing slides:

Color Coding   Slow Down
Choose colors that contrast well as some people may be colorblind or unable to differentiate reds and oranges. Use three colors, four at most. Colors should clarify and differentiate. Too many colors may be pretty, but will detract from your message. Remember that black has positive connotations when you’re dealing with data, while red signals debt – so avoid red at all costs!   Show step by step how you arrived at a figure. Explain the relevance of each step. For example, explain which months are included in your company’s Q3. Differentiate between net and gross figures.
Less Is More   Bigger Is Better
Build complex ideas gradually, one step at a time. The number-one problem with visuals is that they contain too much information. Ask yourself if all information is relevant to the point you wish to make on the slide.   Use bold, thick lines with figures and illustrations and avoid unnecessary details in images.

Presentation Technology
You most likely use Excel or similar spreadsheet software to work with numbers. Use a multimedia projector connected to a laptop or PC to show the live spreadsheet in the meeting. If you need to take notes, you can use the whiteboard to capture notes in electronic ink. Your notes can then be printed, e-mailed or saved to a computer file for future reference. Add interactivity with an interactive whiteboard such as a SMART Board. Interactive whiteboards work with your projector and laptop to provide touch control of your projected software applications.

Practice Makes Perfect
This old adage is annoying, but true – practice is the key to a smooth presentation. If you run through your presentation even once beforehand, you will be clearer, more confident and more relaxed. That way, you can focus on the audience instead of worrying about your presentation style.

1. Dr. Judson Park

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