How to turn a table full of numbers into a visual treasure.

By Manoj Raheja

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.  You’re doing a presentation or perhaps you’re listening to one – and you suddenly say or hear:

“Oh – Excuse the eye chart but you can see that…”

“Sorry – This table has a lot of numbers on it but if you look at the top corner…”

C’mon – you know you’ve heard it!  Or even worse – maybe you’ve used them!  Sacrilege!  Don’t worry – these are unfortunate but common phrases.  I know I’m guilty of using them from time to time.  But I am working on it, and I’m happy to report that they’re slowly being removed from my phraseology.

So let’s cut to the chase – How can reading this article help you?   Simple

  • It can help you turn a table full of numbers into a visual treasure, and
  • Increase your chances of your message sticking with your audience?

Let me borrow the theory from Ryan Coleman (A freelance Information Designer) and his presentation which is also available on slideshare.  His philosophy is simple – “you don’t have to use the data just because it’s there.”

We start with a page full of numbers.  The infamous “eye chart!”

Simply by highlighting the area you want your audience to look – you increase your chances of visual clarity.


But let’s take it one step further.  Let’s allow people to quickly see that Dog ownership is the highest amongst this set, by using a bar graph.

But why do we still have that chart in the top right corner?  What is it adding?  Remove the supports and free yourself (and yes…I’m purposefully being dramatic)!

Now let’s simplify even more.  If it’s dog penetration you want to highlight – then use colour to direct your audience’s eye.

Or maybe remove the other categories all together?

And now join me as we take the final leap to visual masterpiece.  Make your point leveraging the principles of great advertising (1.  Breakthrough the clutter; 2.  Get your message across)…and if you do these things – just like effective advertising; 3.  Your brand (You!) will get the credit.

The truth is I probably use a combination of these techniques.  I might still show the page full of numbers (sigh…yes – the eye chart), because certain clients want to see all the numbers, but at the end I will always look to present my dog slide so that I can leave them with the key nugget.  I’d encourage you to treat your audience just like we’d treat consumers.  We know they’re inundated with a million messages a day; and we want to try and be single minded.  If your audience will only remember 3 things from your presentation (which science suggests may be true) – how do you make sure the right 3 things are taken away.

Would love to hear your presentation tips.  Have fun creating your “Dog Slides!”