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Ann K. Emery on Data Visualization and Slide Design


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Ann K. Emery is an internationally acclaimed speaker who equips organizations to get their data out of dusty spreadsheets and into real-world conversations. Each year, she delivers over 50 keynotes, workshops, and webinars with the aim of equipping organizations to visualize data more effectively. She has been invited to speak in more than 30 states and 10 countries; more than 3,200 people have enrolled in her online training academy; and she has consulted to more than 150 organizations, including the United Nations, Centers for Disease Control, and Harvard University. She earned a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia and a Master’s degree from George Mason University.

In this episode, we talk about slide design, data visualization, the common mistakes to avoid, as well as the differences between Slidedocs and slide decks.

Slide Design and Presentation Prepping

Ann shares with us her approach to presentations. She has gotten it down to an algorithm, as it used to take her days to prepare for a one-day workshop. “I think we should have a process for prepping. You shouldn’t just be sitting down to a blank screen and saying “Oh, I’m making up a brand new presentation every time!” […] that’s not what experienced trainers should be doing, I don’t think…” she says. She shares with us that many professionals have a master file slide deck, from which they simply hide and unhide the slides. It is a process that simplifies presentation prepping tremendously.

How not to do Data Visualization

Ann says that her clients are usually very detail-oriented as they are experts in their fields and work with a lot of data. But there are some data cleaning choices to be made as it could be too detailed easily. She shared with us some quick wins anyone can immediately apply. For example, you can round decimal numbers to the nearest whole number. In many scenarios, it is perfectly alright to round the number. Of course, when the number is connected to real-life decisions or if it is a number under 1 percent, this is an exception.

Another tip she shares is to use a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, not all caps. Our brains do better with a variety of tall and short letters as we read that faster.

The third tip she shares is about putting the title in the center. She suggests left alignment and gives the example of how we read a page. “There’s something magical about that upper left corner of the graph. It’s the most valuable real estate in the graph,” she says.

The fourth tip is not to have too many slices in a pie chart and not to have all bar charts or maps only. The key in charts is variety. A common mistake she has seen and should be avoided is screenshotting any Excel table and fitting it to the slide. It can be blurry, and too small, as she says.

Slidedocs and Slide Decks 

We also discuss slide decks and “Slidedocs”; a term coined by Nancy Duarte for creating print documents using PowerPoint. Ann points out five main differences between them and goes into detail for all of them.

In a Slidedoc, Ann recommends titles that contain the takeaway message. In a slide deck, you can just have the main title. The amount of text for Slidedocs she suggests is full sentences or even paragraphs as it is a report that simply happens to be made in slide software. For slide decks, as little text as possible is advised as its purpose is only to aid the speaker. Maximum three bullet points and five words per bullet applies as a rule of thumb for slide decks.

The font size for Slidedocs is 11-12 generally. The font size for slide decks Ann recommends being 18 for little things like footnotes or data sources. For headings in slide decks, she uses 50 or so and has seen that designers usually go even higher. Now with virtual meetings, many people need to read from their tiny little phone screen.

The recommended length for slide decks is to use as many slides as you need. Showing less per slide and keeping the pace nice and quick is the best. For Slidedocs, there are arbitrary rules that vary from organization to organization.

Ann is really going in-depth on the Slidedocs and Slide Decks differences so you can learn a lot from this conversation.

DataViz Recommended Books 

Some sources Ann recommends are the books “Storytelling with Data: A Data Visualization Guide for Business Professionals” by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic, for anyone who wants to master DataViz, and “How Charts Lie: Getting Smarter about Visual Information” by Alberto Cairo, which is a great resource for non-data people. For designers, Ann recommends “Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery (Voices That Matter)” by Garr Reynolds, which is a great approach how to show the essentials and strip away anything that does not have to be there. Ann also mentions a new book called “Better Data Visualizations – a Guide for Scholars, Researchers, and Wonks” by Jonathan A. Schwabish, who she suggested to be our next guest on the podcast.

And before you go, here’s a secret we have not yet shared – Ann will be a speaker at the 2022 Present to Succeed conference. Get your tickets for the 2021 edition this April, here.

Resources

You can connect with Ann on her company Depict Data Studio’s website, LinkedIn, or Twitter. As well as check out her YouTube channel.

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