During the summer, Geneviève and I were asked to revise
a set of financial slides designed for the audit committee
of a client. As we discovered the first few of these slides,
we were struck at once by three shortcomings, so typical
of the business communication we get to witness today:
one about overall slide design (or communication strategy),
one about a text item, and one about a graphical display.
First of all, we could not tell whether the slides were meant
to be projected and viewed on screen or printed and viewed
on paper. The titles of the slides were set in Arial at 24 pt—
appropriate for projection, if on the small side—while most
of the content was set in Arial at 10 pt—impossible to read
when projected (in most rooms, at least) and already small
with slides printed full-page on A4 paper. As we found out,
those who produced this set of slides were not sure either
how it was going to be handled: it is sent to the committee
before they meet (that much is sure) and it may or may not
be projected during the meeting (no one knows beforehand).
Second, the slides exhibited some striking examples of lack
of conciseness—a quality important in any piece of writing
but all the more so on slides, where any written text competes
directly with the spoken text for the attention of the audience.
Thus, the two bulleted items The purpose of this presentation
is to provide an explanation on the main differences between
the statutory accounts and the IFRS accounts on the H1 2009
figures and The differences will be explained on the results
side (…) and on the equity side (…) could be shortened to
This presentation explains the main differences between statu-
tory and IFRS accounts on the H1 2009 figures on the results
side (…) and on the equity side (…). These last two categories
(results and equity) can then be set as a more meaningful list.
Finally, the slides showed only bar charts—a defendable choice
in this case—but with vertical bars, yielding ineffective displays
such as the one shown below: the bars are unnecessarily thick,
yet they still provide insufficient space for the horizontal labels
even when these are displayed on multiple lines at the bottom.
A layout with horizontal bars allows larger, more legible labels
for the same total graph area and can elegantly combine table
and graphical representation. It thus displays the five amounts
under one another, in a way that makes them easier to add up.
The revised version below also suppresses “unnecessary ink”:
it uses thinner bars without frames, works with fewer colors,
and rounds off the amounts shown, for increased readability.