The Hardest Presentation to Blog: Data Visualization

Kwame Everett, Kim Priebe, and Emily Rowe from the University of Chicago are presenting on "Visualizing Data to Drive Change." This is definitely the session I most wanted to see at this time slot, but I'm a little nervous, since I'm presenting on the same topic in less than two short hours. I am hoping that I don't cover the same ground.

They are leading with a pie chart -- bold! The pie chart addresses reasons to produce effective reports: sensitive messages, communication, scope of work, historical record, justifying your work. The upshot: effective reporting helps to establish a culture of accountability, manage up, and expand your influence.

Start with a thesis, e.g, "We need more staff in California." Use this thesis to shape what you include in your report. Think about your audience as well: does your message match your audience? Use the visual that best fits your audience. The most important thing is getting someone to read your report. Experiment with your data and question your assumptions.

This is a challenge to blog, for two reasons: 1) it relies heavily on graphics, which I can't reproduce here; 2) I'm preoccupied with my upcoming presentation. The presenters are doing a great job, showing some great case studies of how they used data visualization to make your case.

And now the presentation veers toward much of what I'm going to cover. Uh oh for me! Again a pie chart! Will the presenter discuss the controversy over pie charts? Okay, no... Whew, looks like I am going to do something a little different. Man, I am self-absorbed this morning.

This presentation is doing a better job than mine will of actually showing data visualization applied to prospect management data. I do have some very minor quibbles -- 3-D bar charts are never a good idea in my mind, but I think this team has clearly done a great job of incorporating data visualization into their work.

Sorry I can't report back on this, but short of taking a photo of each of their slides, I'm stuck. As an aside, this certainly implies something about the utility of PowerPoint slides for most presentations. It was fairly easy for me to report back on all other presentations I've seen here, without needing to show you the slides. This begs the question of whether requiring a slideshow is really the right idea. (I am not trying to comment on the quality of the slideshows I've seen here, but I think one could make the argument that the presenters could have presented just as effectively without a slideshow, or with minimal slides.)

UPDATE: I heard from a lot of people who attended this presentation, and were blown away. Nicely done, U of Chicago! One attendee at my presentation used a great phrase: "high interest, low priority," and I think that's where data visualization falls for a lot of shops. Kudos to this team for actually making it happen, and for using data in compelling ways to make convincing arguments.