Make Effective Tables for your Presentation – 8 Simple Tips

Too many numbers, lack of focus and bad formatting make tables impossible to understand and energy consuming for your audience. Follow these 8 simple tips to make effective tables that you can use with pride in your presentation.

 

If you need to present numbers, you may believe (like me and Gene Zelazny) that graphs and visuals are the best way to go. But if you (your company or audience) are number-hungry, maybe you’ll still need to include a table in your presentation from time-to-time.

 

But PLEASE: Don’t let it look like this…

 

Bad table formatting

 

This is the kind of table that might drive Don McMillan mad in “Death by PowerPoint” . It is bad because there is no message, there is too much data and nothing stands out.

If you insist upon including such a “raw-data” table somewhere in the appendices or giving it as a hand-out for the finance guys, then at least make it look like this:

 

raw-data table with good formatting

 

…or this, if you like a bit of colour …

 

raw-data table with good formatting - 2

 

To achieve an effective raw-data table like the ones above, consider the following 5 tips:

  • Differentiate row and table headers with different font formatting
  • Add background colouring to cells to seperate columns or distinguish headers from data
  • Put totals in a different font, or in bold
  • Use more white space to separate chunks of data
  • Make cells large enough to have some white space around the numbers

…now you have a nice raw-data table for your appendix or hand-out.

 

But if you are presenting numbers with tables as an integral part of your presentation, you cannot drown your audience with large data like the tables above. Follow these additional 3 tips to bring a clear message and focus to your numbers:

  • Identify your main message and make it the title for the table
  • Remove any irrelevant data – other numbers can always be seen in the appendix
  • Highlight anything that needs to stand out using formatting

 

Applied to the numbers in the raw-data table above, with a specific message in mind creates a table more like this:

 

good table formatting

 

So, if you want to make effective tables that you can use with pride in your presentation, concentrate on your key message, reduce useless data and bring more focus to what counts.

 

Thanks for reading!

Got any more examples? Share them please!

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About Dan Steer

Wandering corporate trainer, learning and development consultant, conference speaker and professional El-Magico. I help people get better at stuff by creating and facilitating Infinite Learning © opportunities. The world would be a better place if everyone was doing what he loved and doing it well. I am working to bring out the "El Magico" in everybody. Training in presentation and communication skills, leadership, social media for learning and marketing, learning and development management + personal effectiveness.

Posted on September 10, 2013, in Presentation Skills and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. This page is AWESOME! Really great design tips for much much better tables than the kind of thing I show above..

    http://designshack.net/articles/css/15-tips-for-designing-terrific-tables

    Maybe not required for your every day finance presentation, but still well worth reading just for the inspiration

  2. Very complete page explaining how tables and charts work + some best practices:

    http://abacus.bates.edu/~ganderso/biology/resources/writing/HTWtablefigs.html

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