Early last week I received a request to help someone update a PowerPoint slide. A single slide. The slide was complicated. It included a bar graph that scaled up sharply on the right side and a table in the empty space above the bars on the left side that added some explanation. All in all, it was a nice slide. The thinking at the moment was:
“Person A would like to learn how to edit charts but realized that that would take time. Person B (me) could probably do this in a few minutes.”
Of course, the person requesting the slide was in a hurry. Someone is always in a hurry for things like this. So, I agreed to make the changes. I immediately regretted that decision.
The “chart” wasn’t based on data – This happens a lot in business. Someone wants to illustrate a point, but the numbers don’t lend themselves to a nice chart because some are very small and some are very large. 100 million as part of 10 billion for example, is hard to see on a stacked bar chart. What lots of people do in that situation is make up numbers that illustrate the relative proportion but aren’t numerically accurate. I’m good with that – that’s fair and that works. However, it would be nice if you left behind the ratio that you used.
The chart was edited in PowerPoint, not Excel – That’s not ok. When I added a new column to the chart in Excel, I lost the format. I had to print the original chart out, and create the format to Excel so that I could add the bar that I needed. Among the things that were overridden were:
- The bar and segment colors
- The legend text
- The axis titles
- The bar width
Other than that, we were good.
The table wasn’t a table – It was an image of a table. That’s OK. In fact, it was probably necessary since PowerPoint tries to not let you create a table inside a chart. Visually this was a nice idea, but whoever did it failed on execution. The table didn’t exist. Anywhere. No table to edit. I had to recreate the entire table, including the new row.
In addition to the above issues, there were some things about this slide that were curious. The activity being illustrated wasn’t complete. The start and end data points were correct, but 3 data points along the way had been omitted. I know enough about our business to guess why the author chose to leave those three points out. They would clutter the chart and make the table too big and you could easily talk to those points, but I am guessing. It would be nice to know what the original purpose of this slide was.
When I corrected the chart, I changed it in Excel so that if anyone ever has to edit this in the future, they can add a row, change a string or select a new color. I created the table on another (hidden) slide in the presentation. Now, if we need to edit the table, we are editing a table. Then we can do the whole copy and paste as an image thing. I also left a few breadcrumbs behind to explain things like the ratio that I used on the bars and the instructions for editing that table.
If we want the information artifacts that we create to have value to people in the future, we have to help them. We have to allow for change. Simple things like the company logo can change. If you are illustrating company data over time, you should expect that people will want to continue the progression in the future. If you used a special technique to analyze or manipulate the data, you should describe that technique or at least include a link to a Wikipedia site, I mean how hard is that? Most important, a short summary of what your slide was used for, what you added by way of description and who your intended audience was would be helpful. You can easily add stuff like that to the speaker notes section.
The happy ending to this story is that starting Monday, we are getting an intern. His primary task will be to help us move the contents of a public-facing SharePoint site into Citrix ShareFile. If he finishes that, or if he gets bored, he can set up a slide and presentation library for us in SharePoint. Hopefully, he can polish the diamonds in the rough like this, and organize those presentations I found a few weeks ago.