Andy Cotgreave, data analytics expert at Tableau

With finance and accounting teams getting ready for end of quarter review meetings, many are failing to use the available presentation technology to best effect, an expert in data visualisation has claimed.
Andy Cotgreave, data analytics expert at Tableau and author of the Big Book of Dashboards, said too many finance pros are ignoring the ‘golden rules’ of data visualisation and leaving their C-level audience baffled and underinformed.
“Review meetings can lead to slide after slide of charts that, according to the presenters, show insight,” he said. “But as far as anyone watching can tell, they show nothing. They’re too small. Or they’re too complicated. Or they’re so badly formatted, you can’t even see what the chart is about to show.”
Cotgreave’s advice is that, when presenting to the board or exec team, finance and accounting professionals must consider their audience carefully: “There’s plenty of financial acumen at top levels of all organisations, but not all executives are likely to be accountancy experts,” he warned. “They will be relying on your presentation to give them clear insights that will guide their plans.”
He advised the optimisation of data visualisations in a number of ways: “Draw the audience to the exact place they need to look at,” he said. “Move yourself to the screen itself and literally touch the part of the chart you’re referring to. If you can’t do that, add shapes and callouts to your slides. Laser pointers are unreliable, but you can invest in new-generation pointers such as the Logitech Spotlight. For a masterclass example of how to point, check out Hans Rosling’s incredible TED talk The Best Stats You’ve Ever Seen.”
He advised that charts must be understandable in about half the time it is on the screen. Punchier charts will result from much bigger fonts, slides that fill whole the screen with charts, and much greater simplicity: “Presentations are not the time to show off your skill at creating complex charts,” he suggested. “The Chord or Sankey diagram you’ve been working on might be technically advanced, but your audience won’t have a clue what it’s showing. Bar charts and line charts tend to be the best.”
Presenting information, he said, is the ‘last mile of data’: “You might have access to a world-class analytics platform, with well-designed data sources and flexible analysis tools,” he concluded. “But it is vital to be able to turn the insights the platform provides into data stories that you can share with stakeholders. Don’t let the presenting of that information be the thing that lets you, or your department, down. Decisions can be made only when you share your insight effectively.”

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by Guy Matthews
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