• Published:
  • Under: Marketing & Communications Strategy

I recently had the opportunity to attend Edward Tufte’s Presenting Data and Information course, and was excited to bring back key insights and new-to-me data display tools and concepts that can help us better present research findings, strategies and campaign results; better reach target audiences; and better achieve bold outcomes. Read on for inspiration for your own BRAVE work:

Key takeaways

Prioritize the audience’s understanding over the producer’s ease: Don’t segment information by the mode of production (or by the team that produced it). It is often tempting to add artificial divisions in work products — reports, presentations, even websites — based on where the content came from or who is responsible for it. This makes things easier for the person creating the report, presentation or website, but doesn’t align with how the end-user will think about the information.

Consider reading time in meetings: Especially when presenting data-heavy content (such as reports) consider having a reading period at the beginning of the meeting. Prepare a written overview of the content and give participants a few minutes (3-5 minutes per page) at the beginning of the meeting to read it. This allows you to focus your presentation on the main points. It also allows participants to process much more information than they would be able to during the equivalent amount of presentation time (we can read much faster than we can speak). This is NOT the same as asking people to read the full report ahead of time — usually, they won’t! Distributing a handout also promotes accountability and enhances credibility.

Don’t underestimate the audience: It is natural to want to simplify complex information, thinking that will make it easier for the audience to understand. However, humans can process an amazing amount of information, and simplifying content too much can come across as patronizing or deceptive. One proof point was Google Maps, which is one of the most popular apps in the world and the standard bearer for modern day maps. It also features about 250 data points on a single screen — but this is not too much for users to understand!

Tools and concepts for BRAVE work

Data paragraphs: Data should make a complete point. Generally, this means using a combination of words and numbers, and maybe a graphic. A weather forecast was provided as an example. With one small block of content, you have a complete picture of not just the temperature, but also factors such as humidity and wind speed, and a simple graphic giving a sense of what this really means when you step outside.

Sparklines: These small, data-heavy graphics can be integrated with text or tables to add context to data. For example:

Google Analytics captured 40,736 sessions this month, which is about average for monthly traffic over the past year .

Two-dimensional sentences: Rather than creating sentences with long comma-separated lists, present the information in a multi-dimensional way to reduce cognitive processing time and clearly depict the components or options. For example:

Do you have any go-to tricks for incorporating data visualizations? Tell us about them on social media.