A Guide to Creating Stunning Data Stories

Hey there! 👋 Or maybe I should say, ‘Hello, architects,’ because every single one of you, whether you realize it or not, is already designing and constructing your presentations in your day-to-day life.

You might be like, ‘Me? An architect? I’ve been in the classroom, not at a construction site!’ Well, bear with me here. Picture this: it’s a sunny Saturday afternoon ☀️, and you’re planning a game night with your friends 🎮. You’ve been looking forward to this all week.

Think about how you’ve prepared. Did you just grab a pack of chips and a few sodas and call it a day? 🍿🥤 Or did you carefully consider what each friend likes? Maybe Alex loves strategy games, so you included a few board games 🎲. Perhaps Emma has a sweet tooth, so you made sure to have her favorite candy 🍬. You might even have planned some fun challenges to keep the vibe going.

Essentially, that’s what we do when preparing for a presentation. We carefully consider our audience—their needs, interests, and questions—and craft a ‘meal’ that will satisfy them. And just like our game night, a good presentation should not only meet basic needs but should also engage, entertain, and hopefully, leave the audience wanting more. 🍽️🎉


Why Preparation Matters

Imagine trying to enjoy your favorite TV show, but the scenes are jumbled, the colors are off, and the sound keeps cutting out. Frustrating, right? Similarly, a presentation with ill-prepared slides can be confusing, dull, and even annoying.

  • Good slides make complex data easy to grasp. For instance, consider a school election. Instead of listening to the number of votes each candidate got, wouldn’t it be easier to see it in a pie chart? You could quickly see who won and by how much.
  • Well-designed slides also keep people interested. Remember your favorite teacher who always has those cool slides? Doesn’t time fly in those classes?
  • A clear slide deck tells a smooth story. It’s like a well-directed movie, where each scene seamlessly leads to the next.
  • Lastly, a well-prepared presentation shows you’re serious. It’s like showing up to an event in neat, clean clothes. People respect that!


The Art of Creating a Slide Deck

Creating an engaging presentation is like writing a thrilling mystery novel. Here’s a simple 3-step process:

Step 1: Outline your story
First, plan your narrative. What’s the mystery (question) you’re trying to solve? What clues (data) do you have? What’s your conclusion (insights)? This should flow naturally, just like the chapters in a book. This is your horizontal logic, which refers to the flow of your slide deck from start to end.

Horizontal logic: In a slide show with horizontal logic, each slide represents a linear progression or a chronological sequence of information. The content flows from left to right, typically presenting a series of related points or steps. This approach is commonly used for presenting information in a structured and straightforward manner. Each slide builds upon the previous one, guiding the audience through a coherent narrative or a step-by-step process. Horizontal logic is effective when presenting a timeline, a sequence of events, or a logical progression of ideas.

Slide 1: Introduction
Slide 2: Background information
Slide 3: Key challenges
Slide 4: Proposed solutions
Slide 5: Implementation plan
Slide 6: Conclusion

Step 2: Design each slide
Each slide should reveal a clue. The clue should be clear, and the slide title should hint at it. If each slide is a chapter, the title is the chapter name, and the slide contents tell the chapter story. This is your vertical logic.

Vertical logic: In contrast, a slide show with vertical logic presents related content within each slide, with a hierarchy or layers of information. The content is structured from top to bottom, and each slide may contain subsections or supporting details related to a central theme. This approach is useful when presenting complex information with multiple facets or categories. It allows the presenter to delve deeper into each topic within a single slide, making it easier for the audience to understand the connections between different aspects.

Slide 1:
Main Topic: Data Analysis
Subtopic 1: Statistical Methods
Subtopic 2: Data Visualization
Subtopic 3: Data Interpretation

Slide 2:
Main Topic: Market Trends
Subtopic 1: Global Trends
Subtopic 2: Regional Trends
Subtopic 3: Consumer Behavior

Step 3: Make it look good
Use colorful charts, interesting graphs, and catchy infographics. Remember, your slides should look like they belong together, just like scenes in a movie. Consistent colors, fonts, and styles make a big difference.


Best Practices and Things to Watch Out For

Here are some excellent tips and tricks to become a master data storyteller:

  • Include a summary slide: It’s important to provide a roadmap of your presentation at the start. This gives your audience an overview of what to expect and helps you keep the narrative focused.
  • Use action titles: To engage your audience and guide them through your story, use action-oriented slide titles that convey the key message of each slide. Instead of “Sales in 2023”, use “2023: The Year of Skyrocketing Sales”.
  • Try reverse storyboarding: Storyboarding is where you create an outline for your data story. Reverse storyboarding is where you review your final presentation and note the main point from each slide to see if you come up with your intended outline. After you’re done, check if the story delivers on your intended message and that each slide supports that narrative.
  • Keep visuals simple: The visuals should amplify the main point of each slide, not distract from it. Use clear, simple labels to make your visualizations easy to understand. A chart with a thousand lines might look cool, but is it easy to understand? Remember, the easier it is to grasp, the better, as it does not distract from the point.
  • Stay consistent: Uniform styles, fonts, and colors make your slide deck look professional.



Decoding the DNA of Success: Chris’s Stellar Academic Presentation

In the bustling hallways of Westlake High School, Chris, a keen and diligent student, had a reputation for academic excellence. But now he had a bigger challenge: A school-wide presentation about “all things academia.” Chris knew that to win over his diverse audience, he needed to make his data tell an engrossing story.

In the library’s tranquil silence, Chris began his journey, building an outline. He decided to make his central theme “the DNA of academic success.” He envisioned each key academic area—Sciences, Humanities, Languages, Arts, and Athletics—as a ‘gene’ in this DNA. The outline served as his map, with each gene a destination.

Chris didn’t want to overwhelm his audience with data, so he chose one compelling statistic for each academic area. For the Science gene, he selected the percentage of science fair winners over the past five years; for Humanities, the correlation between library use and higher GPAs; and so on.

Next, Chris began designing his slides, ensuring that each one was its own narrative, a complete chapter in his overarching story. For the Science slide, he titled it, “Unveiling the Winners: What Science Fair Victories Reveal”. He included a bar graph comparing the winners, allowing the audience to instantly grasp the essence of his point.

As he designed, Chris adopted a sleek, futuristic theme to echo his DNA concept, with each slide decked in hues of blue and white, fonts consistent, and ample white space to avoid clutter. He placed the most important information in the upper left, as he knew our eyes naturally start there when reading.

But the real stroke of genius came with his summary slide. Rather than simple bullet points, he visualized the DNA strand, with each academic gene marked on it. This provided an overview of his presentation and solidified his narrative in the audience’s minds.

The day of the presentation arrived. As Chris clicked through his slides, his peers marveled at the visual journey, as if they were travelling along the DNA strand of their own academic successes and challenges. With his well-structured, visually appealing presentation, Chris not only engaged his audience but also transformed complex data into easily digestible insights.

After the applause died down, one thing was clear: Chris’s meticulous preparation had turned a potentially dry topic into a compelling narrative, leaving his audience intrigued, informed, and above all, inspired. Indeed, Chris had successfully decoded the DNA of academic success.

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