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Data Visualization 101: What It Is & Why It’s Important

Data visualization is a powerful force.

Make no mistake: when data is involved, a visual is essential. A well-designed presentation with ample data visualization is a surefire way to get your message across.

Plus, it’ll keep people engaged.

Nothing puts people to sleep faster than someone rattling off statistics or trying to explain quantitative change over time.

Having a contextual representation of the data helps presenters stimulate their audience, giving onlookers a reason to pay attention.

A quarterly boardroom presentation, the pitch for a merger or acquisition, an appeal to stakeholders, the next big company initiative—whatever the subject of your business presentation, it demands data visualization.

Without something to look at, your message may fall on deaf ears.

What is Data Visualization?

Data visualization turns quantifiable data into something more than graphs, tables and charts. It creates comparisons through images and makes sense of data beyond numbers.

More than turning numbers into images, data visualization connects them with three important context variables: MeaningCause and Dependency. These variables help audiences better understand what they’re seeing and connect them to the greater concept.

For those of you looking for a deeper dive into data visualization, check out
our “Mastering Data Visualization” guide:

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Why is Data Visualization Critical?

Humans are visual creatures! Hence, every business presentation involving data needs a slideshow.

Engaging your audience’s sense of sight, along with aural stimulation, is a twofold way to get your point across—especially if it involves data and figures.

Take a moment to think about math.

Most people can’t do a multi-step equation in their head. But, give them a piece of paper and a pencil and they’ll have no trouble working it out in short order.

The people viewing your business presentation may not have to solve any problems, but the concept is the same. Without visualization, it’s hard to come to a conclusion or contextualize data. Creating a visual makes it easier for the brain to digest information.

Take the following simple statement, for example:

“Customers were four times more likely to buy Product X than Product Y, and nine times more likely than Product Z.”

Hearing that statement might raise a few eyebrows, but it’s hard to visualize what that means in your head. Instead, attach those figures to pictures of the products or proportionate representations, and you’ve created context.

Suddenly, the data is about more than numbers—it’s about competition. It’s about market share. It’s about dominance.

Example: Visualizing the World’s Biggest Data Breaches

Here’s a great visualization of the world’s biggest data breaches:

As you can see, good data visualization connects figures to concepts in a way that provokes thought beyond the numbers.

Yes, simply saying “Anthem’s data breach affected 122% more people than Adobe but only 14% more than Target ,” provides important information that can be digested — however, proper visualization of the statement allows for the audience to pick up on trends and patterns more easily and quickly.

It gives meaning to the greater concept, reveals the cause behind the figures, and explains the dependency of the data, so people can make broader conclusions.

Data Visualization isn’t Always Easy

While data visualization is the key to getting your message across, creating it is easier said than done. It needs to walk the fine line of creativity, relevancy, and clarity, or people will miss the message entirely.

Keep this acronym in mind:

  • Clearly distinguish the data 
  • Leverage powerful imagery 
  • Explain the “in” 
  • Allude to the bigger picture 
  • Remove unnecessary elements 

Remember that this is meant to make data appealing. Someone should be able to see the data, contextualize it, and connect it to a larger concept.

But more than that, data visualization should tell a story.

Let’s say you’re describing Total Addressable Market (TAM), Serviceable Available Market (SAM) and Target Market (TM) in a pitch deck.

It’s one thing to say “our TAM is 80 million people, our SAM is 40 million people and our TM is 10 million people.” It may be true, but it’s uninspiring. It doesn’t tell the story of your product, brand or abilities. Instead, consider the power of data visualization:

Data visualization has levels, too.

In the above example, you might use your brand’s colors to delineate the different groups or arrange the icons in the shape of your logo. It’s subtle nuances like this that empower data visualization and drive the point home.

For most people at the helm of a business presentation, it’s hard to conceive these nuances when designing a slideshow.

Business professionals are intent on delivering the message—they’re not as engaged in how it’s delivered. Only someone with a background in graphic design or media analysis understands how important the little things are in data visualization.

And while almost everyone has access to PowerPoint, few people have the design chops and creative ability to execute exceptional data visualization.

PowerPoint is the Gold Standard for Data Visualization

Let’s make one thing clear: PowerPoint is the premier tool for data visualization.

We’ve all seen our fair share of bad PowerPoint presentations, but that’s not representative of how powerful this software truly is. In the right hands, PowerPoint is a game-changer for any business presentation.

PowerPoint offers numerous tools to make understanding facts and figures easier, particularly when it comes to data visualization. In-suite table and graph generation makes it easy to turn data sets into basic visuals—color-coded, labeled and in myriad styles.

Drag-and-drop, resize and stylistic tools also make it easy to insert prepared images into the presentation itself. Animation keeps audiences engaged! While we don’t recommend the star wipe for a formal presentation, dissolves, fades and curls are all great options.

For someone with a graphic design background, PowerPoint is a playground for making even the driest facts and figures interesting and exciting.

Data Demands a Visual Experience

It doesn’t matter how interesting or important your data is, it’s not going to have the effect you want it to without visualization to make it real.

For a business presentation to be successful, it takes emphasis on data visualization and the design elements that make important information pop off the page. If you’re going to give a business presentation with a visual element, make sure the visual is truly engaging. Dropping text into a PowerPoint isn’t enough. Adding colors and transitions might make it flashy, but they don’t inspire your audience.

To take your presentation to the next level and drive home a true understanding takes data visualization, done right.

Ready to take your presentation to the next level? Schedule a free presentation consultation now.

Informing through Graphics: Visualizing Data in Infographics

65% of people identify as visual learners. That explains a demand to revolutionize traditional presentation methods to be more creative and visually stimulating. Among visual aids, infographics are beginning to gain momentum. Quickly, it’s becoming one of the most popular means of visualizing data in recent years.

Its clean and straightforward delivery of otherwise complex data adds to the infographic’s appeal. But just like any data presentation, infographics take time and effort to make. Knowing how to strategically clean and place material is important in pulling off a good infographic. Randomly throwing things together would confuse potential viewers and deter them from looking further at your material.

Here are three ways to making an effective infographic:

Info + Graphics

As its name suggests, infographics are a mixture of your actual information and a bit of graphics. The word “infographics” is, after all, a portmanteau of the words information and graphics. The key to a good one is a balance between data and visual impact. You have to translate your raw information to graphics without compromising one for the other.

Otherwise, you either fail to deliver your main point to your infographic viewer, or they get bored with what they see. To marry your info and graphics seamlessly, highlight key information and keep any supporting or minor details in smaller text. Maintaining a consistent theme is also helpful in providing structure to your graphics.

Don’t Oversimplify

Although an infographic aims to steer clear of being too complicated to digest, oversimplifying your data is just as bad. Avoid seeming one-sided in an attempt to cut the figures you have in your infographic. But don’t bombard people with statistics.

Leaving gaps between your facts defeats the purpose of presenting information. Organize your data efficiently for a better end product. In her article on data visualization, The Guardian’s Rachel Banning-Lover, suggests that one way to reconcile this dilemma is to narrow down your focus to a specific issue. This segregates your data into main points and sub-points in relation to your chosen topic.

Once you have that in mind, you’ll know how to go about your visual arrangement better.

Lay out the Layout

Once you have your data ready, the next step is to decide how you’re going to incorporate your graphics. In an infographic, everything is meant to affect visual impact. Graphics aren’t the only part of your visual presentation.

It’s a matter of making text, image, and even space work together to attract viewers and relay information. You’re free to design and layout your elements however you like. But as a general guide, always consider whether people can easily read through your visuals. A pretty and comprehensive infographic will be wasted if it can’t be read.

Make use of whitespace to give your reader’s eyes a break. Whitespace, or the absence of text or objects in a layout, helps ease the eyes into reading. Encourage the viewer to read on, don’t intimidate them by saturating your infographic with text and images.


An infographic is a handy communication device. But don’t be fooled into making it an excuse for lazy data presentation. Making hard facts visually palatable is by no means an easy task. Pay equal attention to your data and your graphics.

Don’t let one overshadow the other in your overall layout. At the same time, make sure your infographic is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also readable. You’ll be able to get an audience’s attention and create a lasting impression.

Need help with your presentation needs? Contact our SlideGenius experts today and request a free quote!



Banning-Lover, Rachel. “How to make infographics: a beginner’s guide to data visualisation”. The Guardian. August 28, 2014. Accessed October 12, 2015.
“Go Visual: Use Infographics to Give Your Business Pitch Maximum Impact – Piktochart Infographics.” Piktochart Infographics. October 1, 2015. Accessed October 12, 2015.


Featured Image: “2.26.09: color wheel” by Team Dalog on

PowerPoint Design Tips for Presenting Data

Dealing with data is a crucial part of any presentation. When the stakes are particularly high, presenting data is the best way to add weight and leverage to your ideas. If you want to make sure your presentation holds up, you need to provide evidence that will support your main arguments.

The only problem with data is when you have too much. As we’ve constantly established, simplicity is an important factor in presentation design. How can facts and figures be helpful if they only end up confusing your audience? When it comes to presenting data, you’ll need to cut back on complex graphs and lengthy explanations. The best way to present data is through concise visuals that are both striking and creative.

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Before anything else, you need to think of data in your presentation as an iceberg. The part we see floating in water is said to make up only 10% of its entire mass. The rest of it is underwater, hidden from plain sight. Similarly, the data you include in your presentation should only be a small part of the information you have available. A lot of research and hard work goes into gathering data for a presentation, but you can’t expect to include everything in your slides.

Data in your presentations should act like an iceberg
Like an iceberg, don’t show your audience every bit of information you have. The data in your presentation should only be a small part of everything you’ve gathered during research and preparation. (Source)

In other words, the data you include in your presentation should be the ones that are most crucial to making your point. Before you start building your slides, review the information you have and figure out what each stands for in relation to your core message. The numbers that stand out the most are the most significant to your key arguments.

With that said, here are a few more tips to keep in mind when you’re presenting data:

Figure out the best way to visualize your data

After deciding which of the information you have is the most relevant to your presentation, the next thing you need to do is to turn your data into visuals. Review the different types of charts to find out which one works best for the numbers you have. Check out these resources to learn more about choosing the most suitable format for your data:

The charts in your presentation should make sense without too much explanation. Make sure you choose the correct format so that you can get the simplest and most streamlined illustration. Basically, line and bar charts are great for emphasizing trends. Meanwhile, a pie chart is perfect for illustrating how specific numbers correspond to a whole.

chart data sample

There are also times when it’s better to avoid using charts at all. Certain data is better presented through a simple illustration. If you’re not comparing several numbers, maybe a single but striking graphic is enough to prove your point.

illustration data sample

Be creative with your visualization 

Presenting data doesn’t have to be boring, so keep your visuals interesting. It’s not enough to turn your data into simple charts or illustrations. You also need to take note of a few  PowerPoint design principles.

In our discussion on top PowerPoint design practices, we discussed how some factors—particularly the use of images, color, and space—can make a huge difference in the look of your slides. If you want your data to pop, make sure you learn how to use and manipulate these elements in your visualizations. Look through our portfolio for inspiration.

black friday data
Data about Black Friday shoppers visualized in an infographic on

Highlight the insights 

Aside from great design, it’s also important to highlight what your data is about. When it comes to presenting data, the audience isn’t particularly interested in seeing exact figures. What they want to see is the logic behind the numbers. Why are they important? What point are they trying to make?

To avoid confusing the audience, make sure your slides feature a short explanation of your data. Caption your charts or illustrations with a few short sentences that can briefly explain what your data represents. Here’s another example from the SlideGenius portfolio:


When you’re delivering your presentation, it will also help if you lead with the conclusion. To present everything clearly, you’ll need to show the bigger picture before going in to the finer points of your data.

READ MORE: The Need for Data Visualizations in Presentations 

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Featured Image: Nic McPhee via Flickr

The Need for Data Visualization in Presentations

All the numbers, figures, facts and stats that you gathered for your professional presentation are all useless…let me tell you why.

Let me explain through this: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” My answer to that philosophical question would be “who cares?” If the tree is not in my sight, my space, causing me any problem, or bringing me any benefit, why am I interested?

Much like that tree, and its sound or soundless noise, is of no direct interest to me, neither is your data, at least not yet. At the moment, your data is like that tree, it is a vague and irrelevant issue to the typical audience member. They don’t see, hear, feel, or need the sound or the tree, so to them, it is useless.  The only way your complicated bar charts, pie graphs, numbers or percentages (your tree, if you will) will make me care is if they are relevant to me. The first step to relevance is making your data understandable.

What is data visualization?

Data Visualization is the idea of visualizing data away from your computer and in so doing, making sense of your complex issues. Once your audience can make sense of your data, they can begin to see any personal relevance or interest in it. This is where data visualization comes in again.

Data visualization has the power to harness the relationships of meaningcause and dependency. These three elements are what people use to judge personal relevance and interest on. If your audience understands the true meaning of what your showing, then sees what it can cause, or has caused to them personally, and finally understands that the next move is dependent on them, then you will have effectively made your data useful.

How to visualize your data

Extract the data from your current line graph, bar graph, pie chart, statistics or whatever medium you are displaying your data through. Then take a relevant photograph, or drawing, or design, and incorporate the data in it. For example:

“It’s one thing to see bar charts for average daily water consumption per capita in the United States, Mexico, the United Kingdom, China and Haiti…”

data vis bar chart

“… it’s another to see those bar charts shown as cups of water filled to different levels.”

data vis cup chart


The key point to understand with this is that the design is meant to support and complement the data. For example:

  • data on football fan attendance visualized by having fans hold up helmets to make a bar chart;
  • data on declining education budgets visualized as a bar chart traced in the dusty rear window of a preschool;
  • data on increasing dental costs can be visualized in a toothpaste line graph on a dollar bill

Additionally it is essential to focus on the central aspect of the visual. Whether it may be photography, hand drawn art, or a mix of the two, be sure it is good quality. Check the lighting, the picture quality, contrast, etc. Keep the photo free of extraneous elements; they will only confuse the audience. Take you base piece and add some descriptive text and a title in an image-editing program. Pretend it is your original chart or graph.

Science behind visualizations

These visualizations are effective interesting because as humans, we are not yet hardwired to understand and compute the things we see on screens and on paper. We are built to understand the real world, and we are very good at evaluating the things in it, and this lends an immediate grasp of the subject that rectangles on a screen sometimes can’t imitate.

Work Cited: