The Dos & Don’ts of Visualizing Data Through Charts

The ability to make figures visual is the mark of a good presentation. It involves providing a fast overview, displaying complex content, and ensuring listeners follow you on the journey to important decisions.

When working with charts, the same principle as when designing slides generally applies:

  • Step 1: Precisely define the essence of your message to your audience
  • Step 2: Remove anything that does not serve this message
  • Step 3: Add anything that illustrates and conveys your message  

Here are the dos & don’ts in an overview.

Dos and Donts

Step 1:


  • Write your core message in one sentence on your slide. This is actually the most difficult part of creating your slides.
  • Example: “First decline in sales of product XY in 2017”


  • Simply transfer your data from Excel or a database export to PowerPoint.
  • Use headlines such as: “Product XY sales development in 2017”. This is not a statement or message.

It is not possible to create effective visualizations without clear statements whose content adds value.


Step 2:


  • Reduce all content in your chart to this statement
  • Rid the data or axis labels of anything irrelevant to the message or indeed redundant
  • Ensure a clear, well organized look


  • Use any visual elements that cause distraction. Make a conscious decision to reduce the use of color, 3D elements, shading, decorative elements or background images
  • Use multiple messages
  • Include vast seas of numbers

Less is definitely more. Reduction makes for easier orientation.


Step 3:


  • Visually highlight your core message, as the only colored element
  • Immediately interpret your presented facts for your audience


  • Leave your audience to try and get their bearings
  • Leave your audience alone with too much to read
  • Leave your audience to interpret things for themselves

Your audience expects messages, not just “data and facts”.



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