PowerPoint Tables – Keep ‘Em or Kill ‘Em?

September 24, 2013 | Brendan Cournoyer
PowerPoint Tables – Keep ‘Em or Kill ‘Em?

Everyone knows that tables provide a simple way to present data in Word docs and spreadsheets – but what about PowerPoint? Do PowerPoint tables make sense?

As part of our recent PowerPoint University webinar series, business presentation guru Laura M. Foley shared some valuable tips for creating better, more impactful slide designs. Over the course of an hour, she covered many of the good, the bad, and (in her words) just plain awful ways people use PowerPoint these days.

One topic she touched on had to do with the use of tables. While a table can be an effective way to organize and deliver information, it’s hardly the most visual way to deliver data. So this begs the question – are PowerPoint tables something to avoid?

Let’s take a look at the example Laura provided in her webinar. Below is a sample table that’s been embedded in a PowerPoint slide.

powerpoint-tables-keep-or-kill

“Tables in general, when they’re this busy, are way too much information to have on a slide,” Laura explained. “The people in the audience are trying to determine the meaning of the table… If you’re dividing the audience’s attention between the cognitive thinking that is required to decipher a table like this and pay attention to you, they can’t do both effectively.”

The table shown here has many problems. Aside from the fact that it’s a LOT of data presented in a non-visual way, it’s also organized in no real order and is littered with misspellings. The title of the table (and in this case, the slide) is also too long and filled with unnecessary details. As Laura pointed out, you don’t need to waste space with extraneous things like the number of the table you are showing.

A better alternative would look something like the slide Laura provided below.

powerpoint-tables-keep-or-kill

Just a simple graph, right? There’s nothing particular special going on here, but compared to the previous table, this slide looks like a work of art. The title has been simplified, data has been re-ordered, typos have been fixed, color has been added – it’s just visually better in every way.

As Laura pointed out, “This is more of an infographic, and an infographic is something you glance at and you understand all the data pretty much just with one look.”

This is simple stuff obviously, but sometimes it’s the simple things that can make or break your presentation. Can I envision a scenario where PowerPoint tables might work in a slide? Sure, if there was a very small amount of data presented in a way that’s clear to understand. For the most part, however, when it comes to tables in PowerPoint, it’s best to “kill ‘em” and go with a more visual approach.

For more PowerPoint design tips and ideas from Laura, check out the webinar replay in our PowerPoint University. 

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