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Three simple tips for sharper charts in PowerPoint


Three simple tips for sharper charts in PowerPoint

Quick Read

There’s a lot you can do with charts and graphs in PowerPoint. But if you want data visualizations that tell a story, these three design tips for charts will help you tell a great one.


1. Donuts > pies

2. Take the slack out of your bars

3. Simplify your elements

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You probably already know that charts and graphs are excellent at quickly communicating numeric data in a PowerPoint presentation. And while there are lots of different types of charts you can choose, the reality is that most people will only ever use a few (we’re looking at you, pie chart). So if you want to break out of the ordinary and explore some tasty new ways to visualize data, here are some easy tips to get you started.


Start with your audience

There's more to great data visualization and storytelling than just dropping in a chart. That's because there's never just one way to share data, and how you choose to show that data can impact how your audience interprets it.


So before you drop a new chart onto a slide, think about who you are presenting that data to and what they might want to see from it. For example, some audiences might want to see the bigger picture behind the data, including trends and outliers, while others just want to get to the point and see the main takeaway.


For both of these audiences you might present that same core data, but design it in very different ways.


It’s time to make the doughnuts

While there’s no sugar in these doughnuts, the results are definitely sweet. That’s because the doughnut chart, a less-used variant of the pie chart, is a simple way to differentiate your data and add a custom look to your slides. They feature a clean, simplified and modern look, and help add some extra breathing room to dense, informational slides.



In the insert chart menu, underneath 'Pie', you'll see the option for a Doughnut chart. Click on the donut part itself to adjust the size of the center hole.





Bump up your bars

The bar chart is the other most commonly used type of infographic. And for good reason! It’s simple to scan and can quickly communicate many different types of information. But much like our tip to adjust the ring size of your doughnut chart, PowerPoint offers some easy (but hidden) ways to customize the look and feel of your bar chart.



Clicking on your chart and selecting the 'Chart Design' tab brings up many more customization options.





Simplify. Seriously. Just do it.

There are two big mistakes that people make when it comes to charts. Either they don’t include enough information to tell a clear story (an axis is missing a label, the chart has no title, etc), or they add WAY TOO MUCH information, leading the audience to perform a treasure hunt to find your message.


There’s no one-size-fits all solution to this problem, but in general we recommend that you simplify your charts as much as we can. In particular, avoid decorative elements and anything that doesn’t directly advance your story.


For example, if your data needs to display down to the decimal point, having data labels on each may be useful. Otherwise, your audience can get hung up on little details rather than seeing the big picture your data paints.


One last tip is to remove the legend and title from the chart and create custom versions instead. This helps to create a visual framework for each slide that makes it easier for the audience to locate information.




A little love goes a long way

These quick tips should give you the tools to easily improve the quality of the charts in your next PowerPoint presentation.


But there's one more thing to remember, and it will help you with all of your slide designs: slow down and think about each slide. While dropping in a software-generated chart "as-is" may be quick, taking a few moments to look it over and make some tweaks will help you to get a more custom (and impressive) feel in your presentations.


Update (02/24): we’ve revised this article to add some additional tips for better charts and data visualizations.


Looking for more information about data visualizations and beyond? Check out our resources for expert advice and tested strategies.



About the author

Danielle John is the founder of VerdanaBold. She has more than 25 years as an award-winning designer and creative lead, directing the visual expression and production of thousands of high-value new business pitches, C-level presentations and internal presentations for major global brands. When she's not busy at VerdanaBold, she can be found antique shopping and spending time with her husband and two kids.


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