My last blog linked to Hans Rosling's wonderful statistical presentation: Debunking Third World Myths. If you look at his presentation, it is tempting to think that such communication is out of your own league. Whilst the rest of us don't have access to fantastic software and oceans of preparation time, anyone can apply Rosling's actual technique in handling the statistics.
What techniques are readily applicable?
He pulls the audience into his statistics
- Pose questions about the data that would interest your audience, then use the statistics to set about finding the answers. Thus you get the audience really involved.
- Use the figures to tell a story, so that your graph becomes a narrative. For example, Rosling's graph shows changes in China in recent decades. Even in our most basic graphs, there will be the drama of the third quarter last year or the increase in the deficit.
He gradually builds our ability to understand the stats
- Rather than producing the whole graph first up, gradually build it up. Rosling first sells the title of the graph, then he explains the meaning of each axis and its scale. Having set the stage he gradually builds each element of the data, explaining as he goes. As you can see from Rosling' presentation, this takes time, but not as much as you would think.
- Add key elements gradually. In a line graph, start with just one line, then add the next one etc.
He uses visual elements to help us quickly follow the data
- Make use of clearly different colours to represent the different elements in your graphs. In Rosling's case the data is comparing different groups of countries, for example countries in Africa, vs countries in Asia. Each country group has its own colour. This makes it easier for us to follow the information.
- Provide information directly on the graph, when it is most relevant and then get rid of it where you can. Rosling has names of countries appear on the graph and having pointed them out, he gets rid of the labels.
- Use size of the symbols on graphs to give us an idea of the relative size of the data.
There are a lot of other presentational techniques Rosling uses to keep our interest, but these ones relate directly to presenting statistics. He's an excellent communicator, but why not learn from such a master?