Jon Schwabish is an economist, writer, teacher, and creator of policy-relevant data visualizations. He is considered a leading voice for clarity and accessibility in how researchers communicate their findings. His new book about presentation design and techniques, Better Presentations: A Guide for Scholars, Researchers, and Wonks, is now available for preorder. You can find out more about Jon and his work on his site, PolicyViz.
In this conversation, Jon discusses his session at the upcoming Presentation Summit 2016 series.
Geetesh: You are doing the Unlocking the Value of Data session – can you tell us more about your session, and also what you believe the attendee will take away from this session?
Jon: It’s no secret that the value and availability of data has grown swiftly over the past few years. People who work with data and conduct analysis often seem to use a presentation as an excuse to simply move a written report into slides. But that approach typically results in text-, data-, and bullet-point laden slides that don’t deliver real value to the audience.
In this session, I’ll talk about strategies presenters can use to more effectively present their data to their audience. I’ll talk about good and bad data visualization practices and how to effectively present data to an audience, and how to strategically use data in a presentation. I’ll also do some hands-on data visualization work in Microsoft Excel to teach attendees a few ways to extend the capabilities of that software to make better, more effective visualizations.
Geetesh: Can you tell us more about your work with data, how that translates to presentations—and also about your upcoming book?
Jon: My background is in economics and I spent the first 9 years of my professional career working at the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), providing support and analysis to Members of Congress and their staffs. My research at CBO covered Social Security, income inequality, immigration, food stamps, and disability issues. But at some point, it became clear to me that our work wasn’t getting the attention I thought it deserved and I realized that we were probably thinking too hard about publishing the work instead of communicating the work. I started reworking graphic types in traditional reports, help design new report types, and started creating new graphic types.
So it felt like a natural pivot to not only think about better communication in written form, but also in verbal form, in front of an audience. Over the past few years, then, I’ve helped researchers and scholars and analysts improve the way they present to an audience. My new book, Better Presentations: A Guide for Scholars, Researchers, and Wonks—will be published in the fall by Columbia University Press—is geared for people who work with data and present their analysis to an audience, be it in around the office, in a seminar room, or to a large audience. The book will help researchers and analysts—who too often pack their slides full of tables and numbers and bullet points—improve the way they think about a presentation and how to deliver their content so that it will be remembered and acted upon. I tried to make my approach very practical and easy to implement. Deep down, I’m still a researcher, so my goal was to write a practical book that others could use to design, create, and deliver great presentations.
Overall, improving the way people communicate their data and their analysis has become my mission, because if you can’t communicate your research, then it helps no one.
For many years now, Rick Altman has been hosting the Presentation Summit, a highly popular event that is geared towards users of PowerPoint and other presentation platforms.
Date: October 23 to 26, 2016
Location: Green Valley Ranch, Las Vegas, United States
Twitter Hashtag: Presum16
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