one thing on stage

There's a question that's been asked of me a few times recently: should I only have one main point per slide? This morning, in response to this question at a CFO Summit in Atlanta, I gave a perhaps overly meandering answer in the affirmative. As I write this now (past 9pm and jet-lagged from a very early morning start) I'm going to be much more direct:

Yes.

I was chatting with an audience member after my presentation who came up with what I thought was an awesome analogy. He said he used to work at Nordstrom. There, when it came to dressing, he was taught that there should only be "one thing on stage*" at a time. Meaning, if he wore a patterned tie, it would be the one thing on stage (attracting attention) and he should wear a solid shirt and jacket. Or if the shirt was grabbing attention (bright or patterned), the tie should be solid, so again, only "one thing on stage."

This concept applies beautifully to slides in a live presentation. You can only talk about one thing at a time, so make that the "one thing on stage" on your slide. Not the only thing on your slide, necessarily, but the only thing that's speaking out loudly and drawing attention. Using contrast in this way focuses your audience and can make what you're showing and saying easier to process.

Another comment today was about my use of action titles. I try to default to having the title be the main point or takeaway of the slide (rather than the more common and typically less useful descriptive title). Combining the action title with the one thing on stage concept can work well: the one thing on stage catches your audience's attention and the words in the title tell your audience why.

This is actually some of the lowest-hanging fruit when it comes to taking slides from ok to effective. I've found myself giving similar advice repeatedly lately: use strategic contrast (especially through sparing and intentional use of color) to indicate to your audience where they should pay attention and words (either via your voiceover or text physically written down or a combination of the two) to tell your audience why you want them to look there. Follow this simple advice to greatly improve your slides and your overall presentation.

That's all for tonight. Next comes workshop prep for tomorrow—what do you think—should I wear a patterned shirt or tie?!?

*My search of the Nordstrom handbook didn't locate the "one thing on stage" phrase, so it's either been abandoned or I have the wording wrong, but I think the idea still holds true! 

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food for thought

Perhaps I have food on the brain. As I write these words, I am sitting in a bar in Mexico awaiting an order of Muchos Nachos after a lovely (and hot!) afternoon touring Monterrey. I'm starving. Though outside of that, I suppose I don't have much to complain about.

That is an unrelated prelude to the topic of today's post: the storytelling with data process, in a 1-page format you can refer to and use as food for thought when you communicate with data. 

I've been asked more than once about creating a checklist. The sentiment is good: something to remind people to put into practice the lessons that we cover in my workshops. But for some reason, I have a negative reaction to the idea of a checklist. Perhaps it's just the word checklist that's getting me, with connotations of being formulaic and rigid or rule-based. I do not teach data visualization in a rule-based way. Rather, the answers to many questions that are posed begin with "it depends...". But it occurred to me today when the question of a checklist came up, that I've actually already created something that would meet this need.

When I teach workshops, we cover what I consider to be the foundational lessons for communicating effectively with data. The core lessons are always the same, but the specific content, examples, and exercises vary quite a bit depending on the given group and the main challenges they face. Often, we practice the lessons piecemeal: for example, storyboard your next presentation or declutter this graph. Increasingly—especially with the longer 1-day public and custom workshops that I've been doing more lately—I've been having people do exercises where they consider the entire storytelling with data process and practice going through it step-by-step for various scenarios. To use for this, I created a 1-pager that outlines the main lessons, with some questions and prompts to remind people of the specifics to consider. This 1-pager doubles as a useful takeaway, perhaps something to be hung by a desk to help people keep the storytelling with data lessons in mind when they are communicating with data.

...kind of like a checklist, I suppose.

You can download the storytelling with data 1-pager here. If you've read the book, the nomenclature should be familiar. If you haven't (you should!), enter any unknown terms (e.g. big idea or "where are your eyes drawn?" test) into the search box that appears below this post to see potential posts of interest.

I hope you'll find this to be a useful tool!

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do you SEE it?

When communicating with data, creating visual contrast is key for directing your audience's attention. Check out the following video for a brief illustration of why contrast is important and an in-depth look at four real-world examples on how to achieve contrast through position, color, and added marks.

For more storytelling with data videos, check out my YouTube channel.

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introducing 1-day workshops

As those of you who read my words here regularly probably know, I spend a good amount of time teaching workshops on how to communicate effectively with data. Mostly, I do this for organizations who have recognized the need to upskill folks in this area (more info here). I also offer public workshops, where individuals wanting to build a foundation and skills in storytelling with data can attend.

I have a ton of fun with my public workshops. The energy and engagement of folks who attend is outstanding. The participants are usually a pretty diverse group, coming from different organizations and industries. Most have the need to communicate and tell compelling stories with data as a core part of their job.  They typically have varying level of skills in this space—some have already been visualizing data for a while, while others are just starting out—and all have the common goal of wanting to do it better.

With my maternity leave wrapping up, I've scheduled public workshops for the remainder of the year, with offerings in San Francisco, Atlanta, and Washington DC in the coming months. I'm revamping and expanding content from what has historically been a short 3-hour overview of the basics to a full day of fun, where we'll cover foundational lessons for storytelling with data and practice applying what we learn through a variety of individual and small group exercises. These sessions are kept super small (between 15-20 participants, depending on venue) and are highly interactive, with plenty of time for questions, discussion, and interaction with me. Participants will leave the day having learned effective strategies they can put to use immediately, with tangible practical takeaways and excitement to further apply what they've learned.

Sound interesting? I hope you can join me. Feel free also to spread the word to others who may be interested. To learn more or register for an upcoming workshop, click here.

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