More Than Pretty Pictures - Data visualization is integral to memorble and persuasive messaging


Data Visualization article

I found the recent article from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, entitled, More than Pretty Pictures – Data visualization is integral to memorable and persuasive messaging, to be very interesting and informative.

Once upon a time, the overriding objective of a business presentation was to convey facts, often in stark, bulleted format.  Actually, come to think of it, this approach is still pretty common today, more or less because it’s the way things have always been done and not necessarily because it’s particularly effective.  Some may even contend that adding “pretty pictures” to a presentation is nothing but unnecessary fluff.  But recent, cutting-edge research coming out of Northwestern University from Steve Haroz, Robert Kosara and Steven Franconeri indicates that a presentation without effective visuals may simply fall on deaf ears.

“People might think that visualizations are pretty and they’re icing,” (Professor Steven) Franconeri says. “That’s not true. They are indispensable, absolutely indispensable.” 

Around 40 percent of our brains are devoted to visual comprehension, Franconeri says. “It’s critical that you use that machine.”

As Professor Franconeri tells it, the key to a great presentation is story-telling.  And the best story-tellers today, generally speaking, are journalists whose job it is to take a broad topic and make it something that is both understandable and relevant to the reader.  So the next time you’re looking through a newspaper or magazine or an online article, look for engaging and informational graphics that convey virtual “gobs” of information in a concise and interesting way.  This is the manner in which more and more business people will be presenting information and ideas to their colleagues, executives and customers in the future.

When Franconeri teaches business students and leaders, he advises them to step away from the traditional bullet-pointed slides and start integrating visuals into their presentations.

Because our brains use the same systems to process speech and written language, putting up text on a screen while talking “ensures that you won’t get your point across, because no one can read and listen at the same time.”

But, he says, “you can look at pictures and listen at the same time at full blast.”  To convince your audience of your point, “the visualization part is not optional.”

So, why are most people unaware that visualization is such a critical component of an effective presentation?

“Nobody ever gets taught these rules.  You take writing classes in college.  You don’t take a graphical communication class,” he says.  Yet, “this is a skill that people need to have.  If you learn these rules, it will have a multiplicative impact on how well you can convey your ideas to people and how well those ideas will actually sink in and then lead to action.”

Professor Franconeri and his colleagues are exploring new and innovative graphing formats that may change the way we think about presenting visualizations, including something called a connected scatterplot.  It’s the wave of the future, he says.  And, while he may not be able to predict the future, Franconeri seems to have a very good view of what we all can expect to see!

-Drew Lillie

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