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How to Present Dense Data Visualizations (Without Losing Your Audience)

Updated on: Apr 11th, 2022
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Ann K. Emery of Depict Data Studio is giving a dataviz presentation.

Ten years ago, I had terrible insomnia.

I was working full-time and finishing graduate school at night.

My stress came out as insomnia.

I’d get tired of laying in bed… and go make YouTube videos. 😊

For me, being up in the middle of the night + making YouTube videos = intertwined.

I was up in the middle of the night again to speak at the Present to Succeed Conference (it’s mostly a European conference – different time zones).

I woke up at 3, presented at 4, and decided to make a YouTube video for you at 5.

Ann K. Emery from Depict Data Studio is smiling at her desk in her home office.
The wee hours of the morning at the Present to Succeed Conference

I was up anyway, and I wanted to share some highlights from the conference session with you. Enjoy!

Watch a 16-Minute Segment

In the conference session, we learned about avoiding Death by PowerPoint by storyboarding.

Instead of presenting a single graph all at once, we’d explain the graph one piece at a time.

How to Edit the Existing Graph

In the video, you’ll learn about:

  • adding target lines (if/when that applies to your project);
  • grouping data with space (top vs. bottom categories);
  • grouping data with color (blue vs. gray categories);
  • adding words to explain our categories; and
  • adding icons to increase memorability.

How to Storyboard the Graph

In the video, you’ll see me turn on my presentation voice and give a mini presentation.

I talk through the graph one piece at a time.

Behind the Scenes in My PowerPoint

In the video, you’ll see how I:

  • make the finished graph;
  • copy and paste that slide; and
  • delete or hide one thing.

I’ve got all sorts of not-so-magical magic tricks: deleting icons and text boxes; adding white rectangles to cover words; changing the color of some bars to make them transparent; and deleting some of the numeric labels.

When It’s Worth Storyboarding Your Dense Graph

You don’t have to break up every graph across multiple slides.

I use storyboarding:

  1. at the beginning of a presentation (to start with a bang), and
  2. to explain dense, complex visualizations one piece at a time.


Download my PowerPoint slides and explore them on your own.

Your Turn

If or when you apply this technique, get in touch! I’m cheering for you.

More about Ann K. Emery
Ann K. Emery is a sought-after speaker who is determined to get your data out of spreadsheets and into stakeholders’ hands. Each year, she leads more than 100 workshops, webinars, and keynotes for thousands of people around the globe. Her design consultancy also overhauls graphs, publications, and slideshows with the goal of making technical information easier to understand for non-technical audiences.

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