The #1 Problem with Tables: Sorting Data Alphabetically

I review a lot of PowerPoint decks created by market research firms. And I continue to see a problem with how they present data in tables: sorting the data alphabetically.

There are several problems with this, but the biggest issue is that there are important patterns in your data that are jumbled up, and often even wrong, when you sort the data alphabetically.

Here’s an example. In this table, sorted alphabetically, our product looks pretty good next to the competion.

But hold on! When we sort this data based on importance (second column) a different message appears! Suddenly, our product flaws are glaringly obvious.

Sorting alphbetically is correct in some cases, especially when the reader needs to look information up: line items in financial statements, lists of countries or states, and so on.

But when you want to find and present the insightful patterns in your table data, resist the automatic urge to sort it alphabetically. Instead, find the meaning in your data by sorting it some other way, such as highest to lowest or most important to least important. Your message will really pop!

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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