Pie Chart Secret Ingredient

Every Slide Needs a Point. Period!

In this experimental PowerPoint series, I take user submitted slides and look at strategies and techniques for quickly drilling down to a point. If you find this series helpful, let me know in the comments section below. I’m only committing to 6 episodes at this time, so your feedback counts.

In this 2nd Episode of What’s the Point of that Slide?!, we’ll finish off the slide we started in Episode #1 – Project Pie and look at adding the secret ingredient to our pie chart to get to a point.

As a quick recap, so we’ve made it this far with our pie chart:Secret Ingredient 1 - results from episode 1

And although this is a great start (and can be done fairly quickly) we still don’t really have a point. And as we add the secret ingredient below, you’ll also see why I typically don’t use pie charts.

You can either watch the video below or scroll down the page for the written tutorial if your office bans the use of YouTube.

What’s the Point?! – Episode #1 Video Tutorial

What’s the Point?! – Episode #2 Written Tutorial

Before learning these new pie chart tricks, don’t forget the the key question to ask yourself – over and over and over again as you build your slides – is:

What’s the point?!

  • Why did I go to all of the effort to pull this information together?
  • What do I want someone to understand by seeing this information?
  • What do I hope someone thinks after I present it to them?

Your slide’s job is to back you up, and to do that it needs a point. This is so obvious, so simple and yet so OVERLOOKED!

With that said, let’s dive into the secret ingredient for your pie charts.

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The Secret Ingredient For Pie Charts

The secret ingredient to great data visualizations is context.

How your numbers, figures, or set of information compares to something else. And before I get to a rule to help you out with this, there are 3 types of context you can use for your data visualizations.

Context Type #1: The Past

How your information relates to things that have happened in the past.

This is usually the easiest to do as past data points are readily available. For example, how sales have performed over time, and an analysis of what strategies have been working/not working.

Context Type #2: The Future

How your information relates to the future. This typically includes forecasts, goals, projected trends, etc.

Context Type #3: The Comparison

How your information compares to something else that is relevant. And this is important as data, by itself, doesn’t really mean anything. You can have 100 million dollars in sales (which seems to be a good thing) and still go bankrupt. So you might need to compare your revenue to net income, or revenue to cash flow to make your point.

Pie Chart Rule #1: The Magic Is In The Middle

Once you have your context, the next step is to remember that the Magic (the point of your slide) is probably in the Middle.

And let me quickly explain this using shapes.

If the below blue rectangle is my data point and the below purple diamond is what I’m using as context, all of the space between the two objects (my data points) is the can of worms I want to open.

Secret Ingredient 2 - magic in the middle

For example, you could address things like:

  • What happened so that the blue rectangle on the left became the purple diamond on the right?
  • What do you recommend doing with the company’s blue rectangle compared to the competitor’s purple diamond?
  • Is it good to be blue or is it good to be purple? What should we do about it?

It’s answers to questions like these that are likely going to be the main points of your slides.

Next, I’ll walk through a few examples of how adding context (and looking for the Magic in the Middle) drags a point out.

Context Type #1: The Past

Continuing on with where we left off in the last episode, I’ll first add a second data point (last year’s organic traffic) as context.

Secret Ingredient 3 - past context 1

Now with two data points, the next question is what happened there in the middle?

Secret Ingredient 4 - past context 2

What did we do or not do to get the traffic to grow from 50% to 70%, which is a 40% increase? Well, maybe our point is that our new blogging campaign resulted in a 40% growth in traffic…Yay!

Secret Ingredient 5.1 - past context 3

Context Type #2 – The Future

And if I then throw in another data point, The Future, you get a whole other set of possibilities for your presentation.

Secret Ingredient 6 - future context 1

In this case, we grew from 50% to 70%, but we still need to grow to make our goal of 75%.

Again, keeping in mind that the Magic is the Middle, the question is what is your point about our current 2016 number compared to where we need to get in 2017?

Secret Ingredient 7 - future context 2

And maybe your point breaks down into two separate slides.

Slide #1: You talk about how the blogging campaign increased organic traffic by 40%, which is great.

Secret Ingredient 8 - future context 3

Slide #2: You talk about how you still need 7% growth. And maybe your point here is that either this will be smooth sailing, because you are still doing the blogging campaign or maybe you need to do something different to get to the 2017 goal.

Secret Ingredient 9 - future context 4

Why I Don’t Like Using Pie Charts – Example #1

At this point, I want to point out why I don’t like pie charts. Pie charts are good at visualizing parts of a whole, but I find that the situations where you need to use them are few.

Also, when using context, more data points as context is usually better than fewer data points. This is where pie charts are not very good. For example, If I add a bunch more data points as pie charts, this is what it would look like.

Secret Ingredient 10 - example 1.1

Whereas if I used a column chart, it would look like this.

Secret Ingredient 11 - example 1.2

Isn’t this a lot clearer? If my point is to show the stagnation from 2012 to 2015 and to highlight the big jump we had in 2016, the column chart makes it easier to see that change over time.

From here, the only thing I would recommend doing is highlight that point visually. And you can see our earlier YouTube series on Highlighting Your Point Visually here.

Secret Ingredient 12 - example 1.3

Why I Don’t Like Using Pie Charts – Example #2

Going in the opposite direction, here is what that same example would look like with decreasing traffic pie charts. Notice again that when you look at this slide, it’s really hard to grasp the data with a sweep of your eye.

Secret Ingredient 13 - example 2.1

Instead, if I use the column charts, it’s very easy to see the downward trend leading up to 2015.

Secret Ingredient 14 - example 2.2

After getting the trend in place, I would again highlight my point visually so that it’s extra clear what I want to talk about during the presentation.

Secret Ingredient 15 - example 2.3

Context Type #3 – The Comparison

Now the last type of context – “the comparison” – is special as this is where you can get a bit creative with your data visualizations. And that is to compare your data set visually to something else.

It doesn’t always work (and it will take a fair bit of thinking and searching on your end), but when it does it’s very effective!

For example, I remember reading once about Walmart and how they broke some record by selling however many millions of gallons (or hundreds of millions of gallons) of orange juice in a single year.

As this number was hard to visualize (how much exactly is a million gallon of orange juice?), they used a familiar object to compare it to: swimming pools. So instead of talking about the millions of gallons, they talked about the thousands of swimming pools full of orange juice.

A nice clear visual image! You can check out other ideas like this in our post covering 15 storytelling tips here.

Here’s another example: Let’s say that we are in the cruise liner industry and our point is that our brand new ship is huge. In fact, it’s almost 5 times the size of the Titanic.

Our data visualization might be something like this (and notice I added the actual tonnage).

Secret Ingredient 16 - Comparison example 1

But if our whole point is just that it is 5x bigger, doing something like the below is much more effective.

Secret Ingredient 16 - Comparison example 2

That is the titanic in front of the Allure of the Seas, and you can see that the top of the titanic doesn’t even reach the bow line of the larger ship.

Your data might not always work out that way, but if you can find something really visual to compare your numbers too, it’s a great and powerful way to get your point across.

Is this Series Worth Continuing?

This is an experimental PowerPoint series (as voted on by the community), so let me know what you think…Is this helpful, not helpful?

I’m only committing to 6 episodes at this time, so let me know if you think I should continue in the comments section below.

Until next time, I’ll see you at Happy Hour!