A Design Oriented Approach to Presentations

Posted by Paloma Medina

In our last voyage into data visualization and design, I posed that incorporating these tools into the health sector could vastly improve how we share information with providers and front-line staff. In this last entry I want to focus on how these tools can make an impact for health administrators and policy folks.  To be specific, I want to explore the role of a design-oriented approach in presentations and trainings that we create.

To start us off, let’s explore the work of Hans Rosling. A statistician, award-winning global health researcher and all-around genius, Rosling also has an appreciation for good design. Rosling has infused the health field with inspiring presentations that rely on impressive data visualizations to show health data in a brand new way.

His talk, “Let my dataset change your mindset” on Ted.com is one of my favorite examples of the impact created from the marriage of design and data. Rosling’s lectures showcase his award-winning Trendalyzer software, which transforms an intense amount of complicated data with multiple data points into an engaging, beautifully interactive narrative that walks the audience through a new perspective on global longevity — all in under 20 minutes!

It is the ability to turn data into a story that makes Rosling’s Trendalyzer software (available for public use at gapminder.com) effective. The human brain processes information easier and faster when it’s able to see it as part of a story. Both data comprehension and data retention increase dramatically when new information is presented as a narrative. This is why it’s quite difficult for some of us to remember all 8 of these random words:

But why almost anyone can remember them when we present them as a story:

The girl will polish the green apple laying by the shed after she pets the donkey and reindeer.

It’s a silly but important example – as administrators, policy makers and analysts, turning our data into a story can make the difference between a snoring and an inspired audience. Effective visual design takes this concept a step forward and transforms that story into an visual narrative — a series of images that communicate data faster than the brain can read text.

Your question now may be: That’s all well and good for people like Rosling, with his fancy software, but how does this relate to the rest of us who don’t have these resources?

I’ll answer that with a personal example:
Four years ago I attended a federal training on new cervical health reporting guidelines for Federally Qualified Health Centers. The presentation was a series of 25 PowerPoint slides overflowing with text and tiny work flow charts outlining confusing and frustrating new guidelines that doubled our reporting work load. We left angry at the government and dragged our feet on complying, in large part because we were not sure how to — even after a three hour training.

A year later, I attended a refresher training on the same topic, this time there were a similar number of slides but all with large images, hardly any text on them, and a worksheet that was well-designed and listed the requirements on the left and an area for audience members to write down their own notes and ideas for how to operationalize each guideline. The series of images told a story, narrated by the presenter, of a woman with many years of untracked pap smear results and how she was able to catch cervical cancer in the early stages thanks to her clinic’s new ability to track and report on her results. It was the story of what our clinic could do if we implemented the new guidelines. The presentation ended with a beautiful infographic of how tracking, reporting and better health outcomes all fit together. We left feeling energized and armed with information we could easily pass on to our staff members.  The interactivity, story, captivating images and infographic punchline all contributed to the success of the training. It mirrored Rosling’s lectures even without fancy software.

I personally would love to see the Trendalyzer in more global health presentations I attend, or the elements that make it a successful tool incorporated into the next training I’m required to go to. Do you have examples of a great presentation that used design to engage a health care audience? I’d love to learn of others – email them to me and I’ll post them in future posts.

Paloma Medina is an MPA HPAM 2012 candidate with a specialization in organizational coaching and development. Her background is in homeless health care, community development and design.

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