Are you using the right data visualization?
Investment bank management teams widely believe that the effective use of data visualizations is an industry differentiator. A chart that has the ability to steer conversations and share ideas can make the difference between a good and a so-so meeting.
I often discuss the pros and cons of various charts (see Two ways to get better spaghetti charts and A share price chart is a waste of time). But, what’s never really discussed is that visualizations, like the data they contain, are nuanced, and what works for one banker may not work for another.
It’s incredibly important to put yourself in the shoes of your clients to see how something may be perceived, but it’s a huge mistake to think that this is the only viewpoint that matters. You also need to consider your ability to explain what is being shown.
At its root, a visualization is a tool to help you better pitch a client. While a good chart will work hard for you, it won’t do the job all by itself. It’s like a car. You could have a top of the line Mercedes, but you need to be able to drive it (at least until there is a self-driving version).
Every banker has their own style of presentation. Some bankers will draw out only a few key data points and some will talk to many, so it’s important to consider how the style of the chart fits with your style of presentation. Many times I’ve seen a meeting flounder because the presenter stumbled over how to talk to a data visualization. “Umms” and “ahs” don’t inspire a lot of client confidence.
A good way to figure out if a chart works for your presentation style—and to also expand your comfort zone of visualizations—is to take it for a test drive and practice explaining the chart out loud.
My own process for this type of practice is:
Set the parameters for the visualization. Describe the data sample used, explain what the axes represent, and indicate any important timeframes contained in the chart. Doing so gives clients their bearings and also puts you in control of the information. You may have spent hours preparing this page of the deck, but clients are seeing if for the first time, so make sure to orient them.
Here, you make the data shine. Justify your story—and personal style is once again important. Maybe you like to point to a single data point and then zoom out? Or ask a client what they think the data is saying to keep things interactive? Or ground things in your initial hypothesis and discuss if it’s proven out. Whatever it is, this is where you narrate the chart and begin to build up to your punchline.
Whichever way you told your story, this is where you conclude with your key point. It’s the grand finale, and everyone at the table should know your point and understand how you got there. I like to provide a high-level wrap-up of what the chart is showing and often add summary tables to really emphasize my point. Remember, once the meeting is over and your clients have to relay the meeting’s outcome, this is the part you want them to share.
If you’re a junior banker you may be thinking this doesn’t really apply to you yet, maybe in a few years. But now is the time to start putting this into practice, only your client is the senior banker. The next time you’re adding something new to a pitchbook (whether asked to or by initiative), try explaining it by following the navigation, storytelling, takeaway process. Practice presenting before sending it off to the wild. It’s the best way to become confident and compelling as a presenter.
Give it a try and see how it feels. Were there any awkward pauses or fillers? Or an opportunity to tweak the visualization to better support what you want to say? Let me know how it goes, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.