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  4. Data Visualization: Better Than Pie Charts
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  4. Data Visualization: Better Than Pie Charts

Data Visualization: Better Than Pie Charts

I hate pie charts.

They are ugly, over used and often stuffed so full of data that you can’t make any sense out of them.

That’s why in this tutorial, I’m going to show a data visualization technique that is better than using pie charts for getting your point across.

Research has shown that the single best indicator of success – for any profession – is how often you are asked to deliver presentations.

And the best way to get more invitations to present, is to make the presentations you do give REALLY good.

Before learning these better than pie chart tricks, don’t forget to ask yourself the all important presentation question before you start building your slide.

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 to have a point. This is so obvious, so simple and yet so OVERLOOKED!

With that said, let’s dive right in.

And right off the bat, I have to admit that pie charts are my least favorite chart type (by far), but let’s assume for this first episode, that we HAVE to use a pie chart. We aren’t given a choice (it happens).Enter your text here…

What type of chart should I use instead of a pie chart?

I typically prefer column and bar charts, and I explain why in Episode #2 – The Pie Chart Secret Ingredient, as adding it all but forces you to get to a point with your slide.

So, if you are ever stuck with a pie chart, there are two bulletproof rules you can use to help you get to your point, the Rule of Two’s and Going Doughnut.

Pie Chart Rule #1: The Rule Of Two’s

The Rule of Two’s is super simple. It means that when given a pie chart, you’re only allowed to format two pieces of data. That’s it, only two, which forces you to be crystal clear in what you want to talk about.

Step #1: Format the one specific data point in your pie chart that you want to talk about.

Step #2: Combine all of the other categories into a single category.

Step #3: Add a title describing your highlighted portion.

For example, taking the original pie chart we started with on the left, using the Rule of Two’s I might end up with the slide on the right.


And right off the bat, notice how much clearer your message becomes for both you and your audience.

If you put up the original pie chart on the left, even you as the presenter might not remember what exactly you wanted to say about it. On the flip side, if you put up the pie chart on the right, you better start talking about the 45% that you highlighted as there is really nothing else to talk about.

It’s still might not be a super clear point (it’s merely a fact) but it’s now something you can use to back up what your are talking about.

Pie Formatting Trick – Changing the Angle of Your First Slide

I once read somewhere that it’s best to have the highlighted portion of your pie chart in the lower right-hand corner of your chart.

That means that depending on which data point you highlight in your pie chart with the Rule of Two’s, you might need to adjust the angle of your first slice. To do that, just follow these two steps.

Step #1: Open the Format Data Point Dialog Box

Click within your pie chart and hit the CTRL+1 shortcut on your keyboard to open up the formatting dialog box (see this charting shortcut explained below).

Within the dialog box that opens up, notice that you have an input box for ‘Angle of first slice’.


Step #2: Adjust the Angle of First Slice

Simply adjust the angle setting to move that piece of your pie chart around in your graphic. Below are some examples of different angles.

Pie Chart Rule #1: Slight Variation

Often times your pie chart will start with so many slices that coloring just one piece isn’t very helpful. In these cases, it’s good to use the Rule of Two’s to also consolidate the data points that you want to highlight.

For example, in the graphic below I’ve colored in black 3 different categories of traffic that can all be consolidated under the broader umbrella of organic traffic that I want to highlight.

After identifying which pieces can be grouped together, again using the Rule of Two’s you can group them together in Excel. For the data set above, that would result in the graphic below, showing that 70% of all traffic is coming from organic sources.

And you can do the same thing with whatever data set you are using.


After identifying which pieces can be grouped together, again using the Rule of Two’s you can group them together in Excel. For the data set above, that would result in the graphic below, showing that 70% of all traffic is coming from organic sources.


Again, notice how if this was your graphic, you couldn’t help BUT talk about that 70% when you got to this slide.

That’s the beauty of using the Rules of Two’s. It gets you talking about one specific thing which as you’ll see in the next Episode, helps open up a whole can of worms (the good kind) for your presentation.

But before we get there, let’s also talk about Going Doughnut.

Pie Chart Rule #2: Going Doughnut

If you are ever forced to go pie, I recommend going the distance and going doughnut. It’s the same exact information, except it looks a lot better.

Do you agree the same chart on the right looks better than the one on the left?

The beauty is, you don’t have to recreate anything either. PowerPoint allows you to flip between your charts, so this is a quick fix to make.

Step #1: Change Chart Type

Select your pie chart and navigate to the Chart Tools Design tab and then select Change Chart Type to open up the Change Chart Type dialog box.

Depending on your version of PowerPoint, the Change Chart Type icon might be in a different place in your Ribbon.


With the Change Chart Type dialog box open, select the doughnut chart type.


Step #2: Add Your Statistic to the Center

Once you have your doughnut chart, next you will want to remove the data labels in the chart and add your own directly in the center.

To do that, just insert a shape or text box and in the center of the doughnut, and type in your figure (70% in this case). If you are using a rectangle, you will also want to remove the shape fill and the shape outline as shown below.


The Beauty Of These 2 Rules

The beauty of these two simple rules is they help you drill down to a specific data point you can use to back up your presentation. The result is an info graphic like visual that starts directing the message of your slide.

You can even use these rules to develop your point, even if you don’t originally know what it is.

For example, if the below was your original pie chart and you had NO IDEA what to do with the data…

Simply applying these two rules to all of the pieces of your pie chart, you would end up with a slide that looks like this.
Now, if this was your first cut, you might then focus on just the top three pieces of data (the organic search) and move to something like the below using one of the Boxing Layout Strategies we talk about in PowerPoint 3X.

That gives you some flexibility to talk about the 3 cornerstones of your organic traffic strategy, and to add a highlight or two about each piece.

It’s still not as good as what we do in Episode #2 – The Pie Chart Secret Ingredient, but it’s the first step to getting to a point with your pie chart.

What’s Next?