Skip to 0 minutes and 0 seconds So let’s move now into the actual development of the presentation itself. But before we get in to actually building slides and graphs, I want us to think about something that I think is really important, which is narrative arc. You need to be able to take your audience members on a journey with you, to be able to tell a story, if you will. You can’t just jump in and say, here’s the data, here’s the graph. You need to give them context. You need to let them know what you did. So I’ll start this segment again with a quote. And this time from a speaker and a researcher, a woman named Brene Brown, who gave one of my favourite TED Talks ever.
Skip to 0 minutes and 36 seconds And in that TED Talk she has a quote that I just loved. “Stories are just data with a soul.” I couldn’t love that more. It speaks to my inner data nerd. And it really does bang home the point I’m trying to make here, which is it’s not just about the data. I know data is in the term data-driven presentations, but it’s more than that. There’s a couple of factors you really do need to keep an eye on. It is the data, and it is the visuals, but it’s also about the story. Taking your audience along with you on this journey, there’s got to be a start, a middle, and an end. You need to give them context.
Skip to 1 minute and 12 seconds And you need to take them with you as you go. There’s a visual that I’ve seen that really does do a nice job to bang this home. And I’m at some risk starting this segment on building great visuals and starting with a Venn diagram as, oftentimes, they don’t do a good job of showing data, and people misuse them a fair bit. But in this case, I really do think it does a nice job. Let’s put it up and we’ll start with those three components
Skip to 1 minute and 39 seconds that I mentioned: the story, and the visuals, and the data, all of which need to be a part of the presentation; but they all need to work together. Story and visual without data is just art, which is great. Art is fantastic, but that’s not what you’re going for, right? And story and data without visuals is just a tale. And data and visuals without a story is just a graph. You’re just putting a graph in front of somebody. Where the magic happens is in the middle of all of that. And you really need to think about all components when you’re building a great presentation.
Skip to 2 minutes and 16 seconds The best way I find to do that, just tactically, is to not start your presentation in your presentation. Or said differently, don’t start in PowerPoint. Start in Word.
Skip to 2 minutes and 32 seconds I find great presentations are often born somewhere other than the presentation themselves. And the reason is, if you start in something like Word, you’ll flesh out your narrative. What do you want to say, how do you want to say it, and what order do you want to say it? If you actually write out in long form exactly how you want this narrative arc, this story, this presentation to go, and then move into PowerPoint. And then start building the slides around that. You’ll have a much more cohesive path, a much more cohesive story. Because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s about.
Skip to 3 minutes and 8 seconds You’re trying to bring your audience along with you: to give them the context of your analysis, to show them what you did and why you did it, to maybe influence them around your recommendations. And in order to do that, you need to bring them with you on this narrative arc. And a famous narrative arc that’s out there, and one that you maybe want to refer to, was developed by a 19th century German novelist by the name of Gustav Freytag. And Freytag looked at some of the great five-act plays and saw that almost all of them followed a very similar arc, if you will. It starts out with exposition, where you’re learning about the characters. And then there’s rising action.
Skip to 3 minutes and 51 seconds And then maybe the knight rides off on an adventure in a climax where the knight fights the dragon and wins the princess. And falling action, they’re going back to their kingdom and getting married. And denouement, happily ever after. And in this particular graphic, we have exposition and denouement equivalent. That’s not always the case. Sometimes you end up in a better or worse place than what you started. But I think it’s a good way to think about a story arc, right? There is a beginning, a middle, and an end. And I think it’s pretty applicable to business presentations as well.
Skip to 4 minutes and 25 seconds Whereas, the exposition, you’re giving context, you’re giving background, what were you trying to solve and why were you trying to solve it? The rising action is a description of the analysis that you did. Here’s the type of data that we looked at, and the type of analysis that we did, and the type of modelling that we did. And the climax is your description of the findings. Here’s what we found. The falling action being a summary of what are the business impacts of those findings? And denouement is, maybe, teeing up next steps, right? All of that stuff is a very logical way to put together a business presentation. And it largely follows that arc of Freytag’s Pyramid.
Skip to 5 minutes and 4 seconds You don’t have to use Freytag’s Pyramid. You could use any narrative arc you want. Just make sure you have a narrative and you’ve been thoughtful about story and visuals and data, not just one of those. You need to think about all of them.
Skip to 5 minutes and 21 seconds So now that we’ve talked about that narrative arc, and we’ve started in Word, and we have a good narrative, let’s actually talk a little bit about building the presentation itself. And specifically, here, I’m going to give you some tips and tricks and maybe some things to do and, maybe more specifically, things not to do as you start building your presentation. And the first thing I’ll mention, and I see this a lot, clip art is not your friend. If you’re building a presentation and you’re saying these are the key analytical questions that I’m thinking about answering, and you’re putting this little guy with a question mark above his head on your slide, don’t do it.
Skip to 5 minutes and 57 seconds You’re building a data slide that says we’re constructing a data warehouse, and you’re putting this under construction clip art on there, just don’t do it. It’s a waste of space. It has no purpose in a business presentation. Stay away from clip art. The second point is just because clip art isn’t your friend, doesn’t mean that great visuals aren’t your friend. A great graph that we’ll talk about in subsequent sections, a great picture, a great visual in the right place can be super impactful. So great graphs are perfect. Clip art, not so much. The third point I’ll make is don’t feel the need to use every bit of a slide.
Skip to 6 minutes and 34 seconds I find, just like some people are uncomfortable with silence in a conversation, oftentimes people are uncomfortable with white space on a slide, and they feel the need to cram things in every corner of a slide. Sometimes white space on a slide can be really impactful, just like blank space in a conversation can be. And the last thing I’ll say is be really careful in using animations. I know PowerPoint can do all kinds of fancy things and can make words spin around and appear all over the slide. Stay away from that. Things like building bullet points and having them appear, that can be a really great way to add emphasis and add focus in the places you want them to be.
Skip to 7 minutes and 16 seconds But where text is spinning around and jumping in and jumping out, I would stay away from that. It’s just distracting, and you’re really impressing no one. Hopefully these tips are useful as you start building your presentation. And in subsequent sections, we’re going to get into the actual science of how people begin to perceive this data.
Presentation structure and narrative arc
Here we discuss how great data-driven presentations are about much more than just putting the right numbers on your presentation slides.
We’ll explore the idea of a narrative arc, and Professor Rinehart will share some useful tips about how to design your presentation and your slides.
© Kogod School of Business, American University