…you had a successful interview and got the job! (Well done!)
But now you have to give a business presentation.
How can you make it interesting and well done?
Well, in addition to these useful tips for giving amazing business presentations, we should talk about numbers.
Why numbers? People remember numbers.
This is why numbers are perfect for business presentation visuals.
So how should you use them in a presentation? Have you ever seen a slide full of numbers? Could you remember any of those numbers without looking at the slide?
I definitely couldn’t.
This is why we often use graphs and charts in our presentations—taking our data and making it visual.
After all, numbers don’t need to be boring or ugly. They’re also really useful when you need to show the relationship between two or more different items.
Marketing Your Presentation
First, I will introduce you to the two most popular graphics (visual image or graph) we use in business presentations. We can’t stop there though, because you need to be able to describe the movement (changes) in the graphic. Depending on what you are describing and who your audience is, you can explain this movement in slightly different ways.
For example, if you are presenting your business plan to potential investors (people who will possibly invest in your company), you will want to make your profit graphs have a positive marketing perspective (view). This means that you are showing them positive data so they will want to invest in your company.
However, when presenting your competitor’s profit graphs (of the competing/rival company), you will want to use a different marketing perspective.
But be careful not to lie.
When I say you will present graphs in different perspectives, I mean you can use different words depending on what you want your audience to take from your graphic. Different words have different meanings.
For example, we can say “our stock value increased” or “our stock value soared through the roof” when the stock value goes up. “Soared through the roof” also means increase, but it’s a very large, impressive (notable) increase.
Why Do We Use Graphs in Business Presentations?
A lot of business presentations are focused on data. Often, you will be presenting on financials: how much money you are earning, how much money you are spending, the value of your stock, etc. Other times, you may be showing how the research you’ve done supports a new product or investment.
All of these topics generally include a lot of data to support your ideas. Graphs are a great way to make this data visual and also to show relationships, such as comparisons or trends (movements over periods of time).
Quick note: Charts, graphs and diagrams now mean almost the same thing, so you can use any of those three words when talking about graphs.
The Two Most Common Chart Visuals in Business Presentations
In my experience, the two most common charts are line charts (also called “line graphs”) and pie charts.
Line charts show a relationship between two variables over a period time.
Pie charts are best for showing percentages and proportions. With pie charts, we show how important each part is, and how it adds up to the total.
I’m sure you’ve seen these types of visuals before. Look at the pie chart below. Compare it to the wall of text it took me to write out the same data. I think it is much easier to see—and to remember—in a chart. What do you think?
Even after we create a beautiful graph for our presentation, we need to be able to describe it. As stated earlier, there are different ways to describe your graphs, depending on how you want your audience to view the information.
Describing Pie Charts
It is important to note that the rest of this blog post is about how to describe your graph while speaking during a presentation. So please do not write all of these words onto your slide!
We use pie charts to show how different parts make up a whole. For example, in the above image, we separated our 2014 expenses into different categories: salaries and wages, overhead expenses (rent, electricity, etc.), cost of materials, marketing, research and development (R&D) and miscellaneous (or various).
Here is the good news: If you already know casual English (like these business idioms), then describing pie charts will come very easily for you. To introduce this chart, you can simply explain what percentage went into each category.
Be sure to add your own value when you introduce the chart. Do not just read the parts and their percentages–your audience can read that on their own! Instead, explain why these numbers are important. Can you see the difference in these two statements?
We spent 20% of our total expense budget on overhead expenses such as rent and electricity, etc.
We spent 20% of our total expense budget on overhead expenses such as rent and electricity, etc. To compare, most of our competitors spend 23% on overhead expenses.
The extra sentence gives your audience context (shows the situation) and helps explain if 20% is a good or bad number.
Comparison Words to Describe Pie Chart Segments (Parts)
A very useful technique with pie charts is to compare categories. Comparisons help show what percentages you should be trying to achieve (get).
- Comparison words: to compare, compared to, as opposed to, versus, more than, greater than, less than
You can either compare the categories to each other (example 1), to their previous levels (example 2) or even to other businesses (example 3).
Example 1: We spent 20% on overhead expenses, compared to 10% on marketing expenses.
Example 2: From 2013 to 2014, we lowered our marketing expenses from 12% to 10%.
Example 3: 10% of our expenses went to marketing, as opposed to our competitors, who spent 19% of their expenses on marketing.
As we said earlier, numbers mean nothing without context. Here you can give your audience a clue by adding emphasis (extra importance). Want to show that we didn’t spend enough on marketing? Want to show that we spent too much on marketing? Use these words for emphasis:
- Too little: only, just
- Too much: as much as, an astounding, just on ~ (alone)
Wait, wait, wait. You listed “just” and “just on” to mean opposite things. They sound the same!
I agree. Consider the next two examples:
We spent just 10% on marketing expenditures.
We spent 10% just on marketing (alone).
The first sentence implies (shows) we spent very little on marketing. This can be positive (we saved money) or it can say that we could spend more money on marketing.
The second sentence implies we spent too much of our expense budget on one item. Adding “alone” after the category (in this case, marketing) can help to show this point, too.
Note that when using “just,” the percentage comes after the word. When using “just on,” the percentage comes before the phrase.
Describing Movement: Line Charts
Now that we know how to describe pie charts, what about line charts? One big difference between these two types of charts is that line charts show movement (change) over time.
At any point in time, your line graph will be doing one of three things: moving up, moving down or staying relatively (mostly) the same.
Useful Adjectives to Describe Movement in Charts
No matter the direction of movement, any of your chart descriptions can be strengthened with adjectives such as:
- General terms: slight, minor, steady
- Strong terms: dramatic, major, massive, disastrous, rapid, unparalleled (never before seen)
- Time-based: gradual, sharp. (“Gradual” usually takes a longer period of time whereas “sharp” is a sudden movement.)
Consider the difference below:
Our revenues took a dip in the third quarter.
Our revenues took a slight dip in the third quarter.
Let’s be honest—you are worried that your revenues went down. Your audience is probably worried as well. The difference between “dip” and “slight dip” is that the second gives some comfort. Although your revenues went down, it was “slight,” or nothing to worry about. This implies that “the dip” will probably not continue in the future.
As we learn different words to describe movement, we will continue to use these “strengthener words” or “intensifier words” to clarify what we mean.
Describing Downwards Movement
Here are some words to describe downward movement:
- General terms: decline, decrease, drop, fall, slide, weaken, dip
- Strong terms: slump, crash, collapse, plummet, plunge
For instance, if you would like to explain why your numbers fell in the previous period, you can say:
Our revenues took a slight dip in the third quarter.
Our expenses plunged after installing updated software.
Our expenses plunged to record lows after installing updated software. (Stronger)
In the first example, you want a positive view of your company. That’s why you will use general terms for your revenues falling, like “slight dip.”
On the other hand, your expenses falling is great news in the next two examples. That’s why we can use stronger terms to emphasize this and positively market your company, like “plunged to record lows.” This phrase means the expenses are the lowest they’ve ever been.
Describing Upwards Movement
Now, here are some words to describe upward movement:
- General terms: climb, rise, increase, gain, strengthen
- Strong terms: surge, rocket, soar, go through the roof, jump
Let’s use the same example of revenues. This time though, it moves up rather than down.
Our revenues rose in the third quarter.
Our revenues surged in the third quarter.
Which sounds better? Both “rose” and “surged” indicate upward movement. “Rose” means just that: It increased. This could be at a normal pace or even at a less than expected pace. “Surge” indicates a great performance—either above average or higher than expected.
Be careful! Some of these strong words can seem temporary, or not long lasting. After saying “Our revenues surged,” be sure to explain why they increased. Also, explain why we can expect this to continue in the future.
Describing Upward Movement Right After Downward Movement
Terms to describe upward movement immediately after downward movement:
- bounce back
For instance, “Our revenues took a slight dip in the third quarter but rallied to its previous levels within the first month of the fourth quarter.”
This shows that the “slight dip” was brief (short) and that we can expect more positive increases with our revenues.
Describing Charts with Little to No Movement
If your line chart is staying relatively the same over time, it is stable.
Here are some words to describe stability:
- General terms: hold steady, level off, stabilize
- Strong terms: stale, immovable, stagnant
Take a look at these examples:
Despite some ups and downs, our growth is relatively stable. (Positive)
After a year of ups and downs, their growth is stagnant. (Doubtful)
The above two examples are an interesting way of describing the exact same scenario. Again, choose words depending on how you want your audience to receive your message and interpret your graph.
You do not need to worry too much about which terms you use here. The numbers should speak for themselves. I wrote this blog post because sometimes you need to explain why seemingly negative things happen, such as your revenues decreasing, your expenses increasing or your stock value decreasing.
Final Business Presentation Tips
Before designing your graphs, ask yourself, “What are the trends and patterns you and your audience should know about?” When you know the answer to this, you can use the above terms to design your graphs specifically for your audience.
Always cite or source your data. This means you state where you got the information from. This can be done internally (at your company) or externally (at a different company). If your data was collected internally, name the study or be sure to mention that your company conducted this research. If your data was collected externally, be sure to name the source and study.
Some reputable (trusted) institutions will build trust with your audience, like government websites, universities (MIT, Harvard, etc.) or research agencies (Neilsen, McKinsey, etc.). Do not use open-source websites such as Wikipedia. Since anyone can change them, they are not very reliable for these types of presentations.
Don’t forget to have fun! Let your creative side out by making your presentation a visual ride! For example, here is a great chart designed by Jack Hagley, a London-based designer, showing the “The World as 100 People.” In just one chart, he highlights the world’s languages, poverty and education rates, among others. Use it for inspiration and practice these new terms with it!
I’ll leave you with this final tip: Keep it simple. Graphs and charts should explain themselves. Even without seeing the rest of the presentation, someone should be able to look at the graph and understand what these numbers mean. Use the words you learned in this post to help your audience fully understand why these numbers are important. Good luck!
Joyce Fang grew up all over the United States and currently lives in Yokohama, Japan working as a freelance business plan writer and graphic designer. She has earned a Japan-focused MBA and has worked across almost every industry including finance, hospitality, retail and event management. She loves traveling, food, rugby, hot yoga and her dog, Gator.
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