5 exciting alternatives to boring PowerPoint charts and tables

I was presenting the Mindworks Presentation Method to a team at Microsoft this week and I asked them what challenges they had creating PowerPoint slides. One person commented they wanted to know how to make dry, boring slides more exciting.

Their exact words were “The slides were so dry, you could have started a fire.”

Fair enough. Here are five ways to present dry data in more exciting ways.

1. Sankey Diagram. Rather than present data in a table, you can convert it into this slick-looking Sankey Diagram. These diagrams use lines of different widths to show how something flows through a system, like cash flowing through an income statement or customers flowing through a website. The width of the line indicates the value (the length of the line has no meaning).  Creating it takes some artistic skill and patience creating shapes and aligning them perfectly. But it looks pretty slick, doesn’t it?

After: Sankey Diagram Before: Table

2. Proportional Diagram. This diagram replaces a boring pie chart. By using shapes (like circles) to represent each percentage, the audience sees these as “real things” and not just an abstract glob of pie chart. For instance, if each circle represents a number of customers, the audience can feel how much work is involved in winning back these customers. See Dave Paradi’s video for a larger discussion of proportional diagrams. Stephen Few calls them unit charts.

After: Proportional Diagram Before: Pie Chart

3. Logo charts. When you have a series of stacked bar charts side by side, it’s sometimes difficult to see patterns and compare the values of each bar. Instead, you can create a diagram that ranks these items. Logo charts are an invention of Jon Moon (named because it may involve representing different companies or products as logos, rather than text) and explained in his book How to Make an Impact.

After: Logo Chart Before: Stacked Bar Charts

4. Deviation bar chart. When you have data with two opposite values (like negative/positive) it’s better to create a common baseline so the height of the negative and positive values are more obvious. To create a deviation bar chart with a common baseline, just use a negative number instead of a positive number for the negative value (eg. For “Disagree”, change “2” to “-2” in Excel). Voila! The negative values shift into negative territory and create an invisible baseline

After: Deviation Bar Chart Before: Stacked Bar Charts

5. Stacked text chart. Instead of showing a table with yes/no values for different columns, convert that into a stacked text chart. Color code the yes boxes a dark color and the no boxes gray. Add thick white borders to the table cells to separate the boxes, or else create the boxes using shapes and leave whitespace between them.

After: Stacked Text Chart Before: Yes/No Table

What other ideas do you have for making boring data slides more exciting? Leave a comment below.

About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the new language of business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.

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5 Responses to 5 exciting alternatives to boring PowerPoint charts and tables

  1. Pingback: Be sexy, but mind the details | Sankey Diagrams

  2. Thanks Bruce – great ideas.

    Also really like your post on slopegraphs – I’d not heard of them, but they sound extremely useful. (http://speakingppt.com/2011/08/17/slopegraphs1/)

    With the idea (above) of using a stacked text chart, I’d like to apply that to a table I’ve published, but I can’t think of a way to arrange the rows & columns so the stacks are contiguous. Any ideas? (See http://remotepossibilities.wordpress.com/2011/11/23/answer-peoples-key-question-first-framework-part-1a/#involve_people)

    • Hi Craig – I looked at the table and it looks pretty good. Since you only have one row with all 3 boxes filled, you are going to have to live with some contiguity issues, but I think you’ve minimized it pretty well.

      If you don’t mind, I’d like to use this example and do a bit of a table makeover. I’ll provide more thoughts about the contiguity issue in that post.

      Bruce Gabrielle

  3. Yes, by all means do a makeover on the table. I’d be interested to see your take on it.

  4. Here’s my thoughts, Craig. Thanks for letting me use your table as an educational exercise.


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