Tools To Help Visualize Your Next Presentation

by drjim on January 28, 2009

Presenters Who Can Visualize Lots Of Data Are Better Communicators

Presenters Who Can Visualize Lots Of Data Are Better Communicators

We would all like our next presentation to be our best. However, when we’ve got lots and lots of data to present, we can all too easily overwhelm our audience. What’s a presenter to do? It turns out that the good folks over at IBM have come up with a way to help us out of this mess that we’ve gotten ourselves into…

Not having enough data to support our position is rarely the issue. Rather, having too much data and not enough knowledge that has been created by processing that data IS the issue. Researchers at IBM have set up an experimental web site at www.many-eyes.com where you can upload data and then play around with it in order to visualize it.

Now I’m sure that everyone is well aware of the graphing capabilities of both PowerPoint and Excel. The problem is that EVERYONE is aware of these and so all too often, every presentation starts to look the same.

The scientists at IBM’s Watson Research Center (located up in Cambridge, Mass.) have created this site not so much to help presenters, but rather to help people publish and discuss graphics in a group. However, there is no reason that we can’t make use of the tools that they are providing us with and if we can get some social networking suggestions along the way, all the better.

The web site is the creation of two IBM researchers, Martin Wattenberg and Fernanda Viegas. What they wanted to do was to take the sophisticated data visualization tools that have been available to researchers and make them available to the masses.

Currently, the Many Eyes site provides 16 different ways to present your data. Yes, your old friends the stack graphs and bar charts are there. However there are also more interesting presentations such as diagrams that let people map relationships and TreeMaps which show information in colored rectangles.

This Is An Example Of A TreeMap Visualization

This Is An Example Of A TreeMap Visualization

When the site first became available, they only offered visualisation tools that would work with numbers. Quickly the site owners discovered that their users were attempting to upload books and blog posts. Based on this discovery, they went ahead and added visualization techniques that would work with unstructured text.

One of my favorite unstructured tools is the Tag cloud that you’ve probably been seeing show up on blogs (like mine). The more a word is used, the larger it appears in a tag cloud. Here’s an example:

Example of a Tag Cloud Visualization

Example of a Tag Cloud Visualization

If you want to learn how to use this tool to process your data, Rich Hoeg has created the Northstar Nerd Tutorial: Data Visualization via IBM’s Many Eyes.

One important point to realize, the tool was really designed to allow people to share data and visualizations. Don’t upload confidential info! You can delete your information after you are done processing it; however, if it has been commented on by others this won’t make the site’s owners very happy.

Have fun coming up with different ways to look at your data and present it to your audience. However, keep in mind that once you start to look at the data in a different way, it may end up giving you answers to questions that you didn’t even know that you had.

When you have to present data as part of a presentation, what format do you normally use? What tools do you use to create your visualizations? Do you think that your audience can understand what your visualizations are saying? Do you feel that all graphs are starting to look the same? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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