Read This Before Your Next CEO Presentation

by | Oct 2, 2014 | Healthcare Industry Insights

Pie charts are ubiquitous in today’s media and even pop culture, but they happen to be one of the worst ways to visualize data. Learn about more effective executive-level reporting tactics.

The next time you need to put togeth­er a pre­sen­ta­tion for your CEO or C‑suite exec­u­tives on mar­ket share, media mix, or the lat­est mar­ket research sur­vey, your first thought may be to cre­ate a pie chart when rep­re­sent­ing val­ues that add up to 100 per­cent. You may want to reconsider.

Pie: Great for Dessert, Not for Data

Pie charts are only use­ful for very sim­ple mes­sages, such as, “Wow, that one slice is real­ly big!” How­ev­er, once you get past two or three slices, it becomes dif­fi­cult to extract use­ful infor­ma­tion from the chart. For exam­ple, in the chart below, it’s dif­fi­cult to guess at the val­ues of all but the largest slice, and it’s hard­er still to see how much larg­er any slice is than any oth­er one.

The prob­lem is that the human eye isn’t adept at siz­ing up angles, and espe­cial­ly not com­par­ing dif­fer­ent angles when they start in dif­fer­ent places. We’re also not good at con­nect­ing those pieces of the pie to actu­al num­bers. To extract accu­rate infor­ma­tion from the chart, you have to place data labels next to the slices. This rais­es the ques­tion: If you need to print the data val­ues on the chart to make it use­ful (essen­tial­ly, to make it a table), why gen­er­ate a chart at all?

Bar Charts: The Sensible Choice for a CEO or C‑Suite Presentation

The rem­e­dy for all this con­fu­sion is to plot the data on a friend­ly bar (hor­i­zon­tal) or col­umn (ver­ti­cal) chart. You can eas­i­ly see how the data from the pie chart above that brought on so much con­ster­na­tion is now much eas­i­er to read in bar chart format:

Now, it’s imme­di­ate­ly clear how much mar­ket share each of the hos­pi­tals in the area com­mand, because all of the bars are read off a sin­gle axis. This removes the need to label the indi­vid­ual bars. What’s more, you can eas­i­ly tell that Hos­pi­tal B’s mar­ket share is 5 per­cent­age points larg­er than that of Hos­pi­tal C. Bar charts are built with the human visu­al cor­tex in mind by play­ing to its strengths (which line is longer) instead of its weak­ness­es (which angle is wider).

Bar and col­umn charts have many oth­er ben­e­fits, including:

  • You can add cat­e­gories with­out reduc­ing the clar­i­ty of exist­ing categories.
  • You don’t need to use dif­fer­ent col­ors or a leg­end (save that col­or ink!).
  • You aren’t restrict­ed to types of data that add up to 100 per­cent or that include only pos­i­tive values.
  • You can add a series to eas­i­ly com­pare cat­e­gories over time, like the chart below.

Want more ways to look like a rock star in your next CEO pre­sen­ta­tion? Check out “How to Be a Change Agent” for five proven strate­gies for solv­ing com­mon mar­ket­ing problems.

Get More Expert Perspective

Sign up for our newslet­ter and have insights like these deliv­ered to your inbox!

Subscribe to our blog

Sign up for updates!

Sign up for updates!

Get marketing tips delivered straight to your inbox.

You have Successfully Subscribed!