Presentation Design Masterclass: Charts & Graphs

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Hi there! Welcome to module 6 of Nicework’s Presentation Design Masterclass. So far, we’ve covered presentation planning, document setup, fontscolours, and imagery. What a mouthful! Today, we’re looking at charts and graphs – how they can be used to further your big idea, and when to leave them behind. Make sure you read to the end of the post – we’ve also got a free downloadable set of sample slides for you to play around with.


When to use (or NOT use) infographics


Think first, graph later

When confronted with a presentation that needs to relay large amounts of information, it can be easy to fall into the trap of using charts and graphs EVERYWHERE. This is especially tempting for presentations where content comes from multiple different sources, and graphs are already supplied by third parties.

However, graphs are intended to streamline the delivery of information and highlight key points – so overusing them can easily negate their value.

The best way to approach a mountain of facts and figures is to first and foremost engage with it, process it and refine it. What is the purpose of the graph on that slide? Can it be split up? Does all the information need to be there, or can you cover some of the data verbally to reduce slide clutter? People often remember important information better when it’s packaged in the form of a good metaphor, or a well told story.

Rules of thumb

If making use of a graph or table helps to make the information more accessible and digestible, then go for it! If it captures a whole lot of information in a simple and effective way, jump right in! Just don’t resort to charts and graphs just because you can. It’s worth remembering that data, facts and figures can often seem clinical and detached – so treat them sensitively and add try to add some context or embellishment whenever possible.

  • Don’t lose sight of your goal. If a graph doesn’t substantiate, explain or otherwise further your big idea, it’s probably unnecessary.
  • Have a good lead in and conclusion for each set of data displayed, so that your audience is aware of the relevance of the data. This doesn’t have to be explained in text – you can deliver it verbally, too. Just don’t have a slide that’s essentially, “here’s a graph!”
  • Try your best to keep it simple. Spare your audience the effort of having to decipher slides that look like they’ve been pulled from an annual stock market report.
  • Don’t cram multiple complex graphs onto one slide. They should be used for emphasis – squeezing in too many of them totally defeats the point.
  • Keep your chart layouts and graph treatments consistent with the design of the rest of your slides.

Creating infographics in PowerPoint


What chart layout to use:

When choosing an appropriate graph layout it is important to remember that different graph styles are used for different information sets.

Columns, bars and lines are good for comparing data, while area and pie charts unpack various elements within one unit.

Let the information/data dictate what layout would be the most suitable for the job.

Avoid unnecessary labels

PowerPoint’s formatting menu provides a comprehensive breakdown of all the editable chart elements. It’s worth considering which elements you do or don’t need – for instance, does your graph need a title if you are stating it verbally? Do your units have to be marked off in multiples of ten, or will hundreds do? If there is so much information that the important stuff is too small and cramped to read, scale back. Be brutal!

Try to avoid most of the clutter that comes from excessive labeling, by only adding the most essential elements. Also remember that you can always elaborate and explain the detailed information in your script and talk everyone through the data laid out in front of them. You can also sidestep the confines of graphic layouts all together by using a designer’s favourite data tool – big numbers. If you can get away with it, using just one key takeaway can be far more impactful than a huge, detailed table.

Add some context

Incorporating imagery and graphic icons provides a great platform to you to step away from dry facts and figures towards a more emotive message. Using photography as a visual cue and can be a great starting point to help pull your audience in, and help them to better understand your big idea. You can tell great stories by effectively combining data and imagery.

Make it beautiful

We know this is what you’re all here for.

PowerPoint’s default settings for graphs involve a lot of shadows, decorative gradients and other fairly pointless design touches that serve only to clutter up your slides and make your presentation look “PowerPointy”. It’s a quick enough fix, though – when you create a graph, go right ahead and remove all the unnecessary fluff. That’s gradients, shadows, lines around your shapes; all of it. You can easily go back in later and add those sorts of touches IF you feel that they are necessary for your brand or for the representation of your data.

With regard to colour schemes, there’s good news – if you’ve gone through our colour palettes module, you’re all set! Graphs pull colours straight from the themes you set up in PowerPoint – so as long as you set up your palettes correctly, everything should be right on point.

As for your fonts, the only big thing to note is that you should remain consistent. Sometimes, when graphs are created, PowerPoint likes to generate the legends and headings in default fonts, so your only task here is to go through and check that all your fonts are correct. Easy peasy!

If you’d like to do some fiddling in PowerPoint to practise these principles a little, take a look at the free sample slides we’ve set up for you!

Have you found the last few modules useful? Early next, we’ll be talking about animation – how do you pull it off in PowerPoint without getting too cheesy? We’ll show you the ropes.

Published by Ross

Ross grew up on the wrong side of the Jukskei. He studied at Vega and was awarded the Top Student prize at his graduation. After working as a freelancer for four years, he founded Nicework with Ben Vorster. He has a penchant for Scandinavian wood furniture and really nice shirts. He is open to bribery- all iPads are welcome. He also likes chocolate cake and is happily married.

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