Chart and graphs in presentation design

It’s inevitable… no matter how sleek and powerful you make your presentation slides, at some point it will be tempting to insert a pie chart or a line graph. The important question to ask yourself before you start plotting your data in Excel is: “Why?”

Why do you need to use this graphic in your slide deck? The simple answer is – to bring data to life.

Unfortunately, too often graphs and charts are used to confuse the daylights out of your audience! They sit blank-eyed and bewildered as you walk them through what is essentially a graphic representation that helped you better understand your own subject matter.

Take this frightful slide that Seth Godin describes as the Worst PowerPoint Slide Ever Used by a CEO. Looks familiar – you’ve probably seen many variations of this slide yourself.


[insert slide]


Here’s another one that was used in the US Military last year to describe the situation in Afghanistan.


[insert slide]




In the best presentation design, charts and graphs are used very rarely, and always with maximum impact. Here are a few pointers:


  • Don’t use more than four colours per visual. While it’s okay to use bright colours, avoid neon greens and yellows as these translate poorly when projected.
  • Eliminate unnecessary details like gridlines, labels that don’t relate to your point and legends for data points that aren’t relevant. Simpler is better.
  • Don’t use uppercase to label the X and Y axis; it’s impossible to read and makes your eyeballs want to jump out of their sockets.
  • Label it correctly. Instead of saying: “Sales 2009 to 2010”, rather label it “Sales increased in 2010” – this shows your audience what they are looking for.
  • A chart should only make one point (which should be described in the heading). It should not be used as a reference for multiple talking points.