PowerPoint Tips: Creating Charts that Keep Your Audience Awake

By Ellen Finkelstein

Graphs (called charts in PowerPoint) are an important part of many presentations, especially ones with financial data. In this tip, I include the basics for creating a readable, effective graph.

For a special technique, read another tip, ” Push PowerPoint charting options to the limit.”

First, some basic steps:

  • 1. Make sure that your data is not too complex. Often, you can split one chart into two to make the point more clearly.
  • 2. Choose the right chart type! Data that is appropriate for a column chart usually doesn’t work with a pie chart, and vice versa.
  • 3. It’s often useful to add an arrow or callout to the chart to point out important data or trends.
  • Know that PowerPoint’s default formatting is never acceptable. That’s right, never. So you might as well learn how to change the formatting. Here you see the default chart using the blank template in PowerPoint 2003.



    Here are the problems:

    • The 3D effect is confusing. Does the front or the back of the column represent the actual number? (Luckily, the default in PowerPoint 2007 and 2010 is for a 2D chart.)
    • You don’t need the legend on the right, because it will be obvious during the presentation that you’re talking about revenue. The legend also forces the graph to fit into a smaller space.
    • The horizontal grid lines help gauge the value, but they’re ugly and distracting.
    • The bars are too far apart from each other, which makes seeing the trend more difficult.
    • The bars could look more interesting!

    Here is one way you could change the chart:

  • Double-click the chart (PowerPoint 2003) or click it (2007 and 2010) to open it for editing.
  • In PowerPoint 2003, choose Chart>Chart Type. Choose the first chart sub-type (a 2D option) and click OK. The actual values are much more apparent now. If you have a 3D chart type in 2007 or 2010, right-click inside the chart and choose Change Chart Type. Then choose one of the 2D options and click OK.
  • Click the legend on the right to select it and press Delete. Your graph now takes up the entire chart area.

  • Article continued here

    This excerpt is shared with permission from ellenfinkelstein.com.

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