Graphs (called charts in PowerPoint) are an important part of many presentations, especially ones with financial data. In this tip, I include the basics for creating a readable, effective graph.
For a special technique, read another tip, ” Push PowerPoint charting options to the limit.”
First, some basic steps:
- Make sure that your data is not too complex. Often, you can split one chart into two to make the point more clearly.
- Choose the right chart type! Data that is appropriate for a column chart usually doesn’t work with a pie chart, and vice versa.
- It’s often useful to add an arrow or callout to the chart to point out important data or trends.
Know that PowerPoint’s default formatting is never acceptable. That’s right, never. So you might as well learn how to change the formatting. Here you see the default chart using the blank template in PowerPoint 2003.
Here are the problems:
- The 3D effect is confusing. Does the front or the back of the column represent the actual number? (Luckily, the default in PowerPoint 2007 and 2010 is for a 2D chart.)
- You don’t need the legend on the right, because it will be obvious during the presentation that you’re talking about revenue. The legend also forces the graph to fit into a smaller space.
- The horizontal grid lines help gauge the value, but they’re ugly and distracting.
- The bars are too far apart from each other, which makes seeing the trend more difficult.
- The bars could look more interesting!
Here is one way you could change the chart:
- Double-click the chart (PowerPoint 2003) or click it (2007 and 2010) to open it for editing.
- In PowerPoint 2003, choose Chart>Chart Type. Choose the first chart sub-type (a 2D option) and click OK. The actual values are much more apparent now. If you have a 3D chart type in 2007 or 2010, right-click inside the chart and choose Change Chart Type. Then choose one of the 2D options and click OK.
- Click the legend on the right to select it and press Delete. Your graph now takes up the entire chart area.
- Click one of the gridlines, and press Delete. They all go away.
- Click the border around the chart and press Delete. The background is now uncluttered.
- Click one of the columns, right-click the column, and choose Format Data Series. Choose the Options tab or Series Options category. Using the Gap Width text box or slider, reduce the value. The columns are now wider (less gap between them).
- You can also apply a simple gradient. In 2003, click the Patterns tab. In the Area section, click Fill Effects. On the Gradient tab of the Fill Effects dialog box, choose the Two Colors option. Click the Color 1 and Color 2 drop-down lists and choose two colors that you like, that match the rest of the presentation, and that go well with each other. I chose Light Turquoise and Teal. In the Shading Styles section, choose Vertical and then choose the variant with the lighter color in the middle. Click OK twice. In 2007 and 2010, click the Fill category of the Format Data Series dialog box. Click Gradient Fill. From the Direction drop-down list, choose a vertical direction. Choose Stop 1 and choose a color below. Choose Stop 3 and choose the same color. Choose Stop 3 and choose another color for the middle. Click Close. The columns now have a subtle 3D effect without being confusing.
Here’s the final result, with a background applied.
Ellen, I am looking for a way to show points on a scale, in other words, I have a line from 1 to 100. I have 5 brands that are being rated by attributes, such as, a brand I trust. I have a value at 77, 66, 51, 47 and 16. Is there a PowerPoint chart that can graph this? There are as many as 25 attributes. Right now we’re doing it by hand, but I’d really love to automate it. Any ideas would be much appreciated.
Graphics services manager
I’d have to see it to really answer you. But I’d play around with putting the numbers in Excel and then charting them. You’d have to try out different configurations (all in a row, all in a column) and different chart types to see which gives you the results that you want.
I would like to compare survey results from 2011 and 2012 using a bar chart. I’ve broken the results down by the type of attendees (3) who have responded. My challenge is how to compare the results from 2011 and 2012. Any advice? Thanks.
Once you have created the chart with the data, with Excel still open, try clicking Switch Row/Column on the Chart Tools Design tab. You may find that one of the 2 configurations gives you the comparison you need.