Clear as Mud – Tips to Develop Presentations that Work


I just got a new laptop. My Dell was four years old, but the gray hairs were starting to show. I now have a new laptop that weighs 2 pounds and I love it. As part of this process, I transferred and archived old documents and files stored on my laptop, and came across a cartoon I clipped out of The New Yorker a few years ago (see photo below). It made me chuckle again as it did when I first saw it—a man presenting an elaborate chart asking the audience to let the information sink in.

I think consultants do this to clients all the time—show charts and graphs depicting gobs of data, expecting clients to understand and the results to be crystal clear. Sometimes it is clear alright—clear as mud.


My world as a consultant is all about interpreting data: Market trends, customer data, survey results, and demographics, among others. But what does it all mean and how do we help our clients interpret results into something meaningful?

At OrangeBoy, we are constantly trying to find new and better ways to interpret data so it is easily understood by our clients. Some days we’re more successful than others are, but over the years, I have learned a few tactics that have been helpful. Here are a few tips I try to employ:

  • Pick one thing.  Instead of showing multiple data points on a chart, pick the one thing that is most compelling and focus on that. Your presentation should tell a story. Choose the data points for each chart that help you tell that story.
  • Edit.  More is not better in all cases.  Sure, we have all been guilty of building 100-slide decks, but I’m not proud of that.  Get the scissors out and cut, cut, cut!
  • Take time to digest the information.  Sometimes a situation is complex and it takes some time to really think about what the data is telling you.
  • Use images and words.  Words are good, words with images are better.  What’s the old saying?  A picture is worth a 1,000 words.
  • Narrate. Presentations are best delivered in person. Give your data added shelf life by providing speaker notes to your client to share with others. Better yet, provide an audio recording to accompany slides so others who were not in the presentation can have a similar experience. We have found the product to be a helpful tool.
  • Explain it to your mother. I once saw a cancer researcher present his work.  He said he always tried to explain his research as if he were talking to his mother.  In other words, lose the jargon and simplify the message.

I taped this cartoon to my desk.  It’s a good reminder to remember my own advice.  Good luck with your own data interpretation, and be sure to share your own tips with others below.

Why Do You Have a Bowling Ball in Your Office?

Written by: Clark Swanson, CEO & Founder

It's not that we have a bowling ball, why wouldn't we? Rather, what does the bowling ball say about our work?

Our first real gig as planners involved developing a new approach to senior programming at the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department. They awoke one day with the realization that as generations transitioned, so must their approach to senior programming.

We did detailed analysis of the senior centers' membership, the most popular programs, reviewed financials, and conducted a product and service review with their staff planning teams. Several important recommendations came from this. First, they decided to focus more on inter-generational programs and activities. Second, they changed the names of their dedicated senior centers to Renaissance Centers. Finally, they cut many of their once-popular programs.


As we reviewed the proposed programming cuts, event by event, each center director would shake his, or her, head. "Bowling," I said.

Everyone nodded, except one person. "If we cut bowling, I'll have a rebellion. We fill every lane."

I was confused. The individuals involved were all over 65. Most were drawing social security, so income differed little. Why was bowling so popular at this center?

We mapped the members of that particular center with a first generation mapping software. They all clumped up around an old steel plant.

Bingo. It took about three seconds to understand what happened. Those members had been former plant workers and had likely bowled in the industrial leagues. 

For me the lesson was clear: environment molds behavior, not demographics. The demographic analysis of the centers' membership showed few discernable differences. Yet when you look at the environment, huge differences resulted. It sometimes showed itself in subtle ways, but it existed nonetheless.

I remember that lesson each time the bowling ball enters my sight. Our numbers represent a digital description of one's life. To understand their meaning, we have to understand the environment they grow from.

The same holds true for our clients. If you want to understand them, go see them in their environment. It gives you an understanding of how they approach their work, and how we craft our services to assist them.

Enhancing Customer Experience: Three Easy Rules to Live By

Originally Posted on September 23, 2014 by Sandra Swanson

I recently attended a breakfast seminar about customer experience sponsored by Chase Bank.  The presenter, Joe Calloway, talked not only about customer experience in general but how to connect it with business growth.  It was an interesting and thought-provoking way to start what would have been an ordinary Tuesday morning.

One point that stuck with me is the nature of purchasing decisions today.  Whether we are making a personal purchases or buying services on behalf of a company, we will seek out reviews, testimonials, and referrals to help make the right choice.

Recognizing the importance of others’ opinions, it is essential to run our businesses and organizations based on what we want our clients and customers to say about us.  To use a quote by marketing guru Seth Godin, “If your reviews aren’t stellar, do better work…”  Makes sense.

We did an exercise where we chose three attributes we would want people to say about us.  It might be providing great value, delivering on time, or being responsive when dealing with questions.

Based on the exercise, we were asked to answer this question, “What are the three things you have to get right every day?”  For some reason, phrasing it this way helped me clarify what is important.  Sure, we get busy with tasks, meetings, and a long list of to-dos, but focusing on those three things you HAVE to get right really helps cut through the clutter.

As I thought about OrangeBoy, the three things we have to get right every day are:

  1. Do what we say we will do, when we said we would do it (Deliver)
  2. Be thoughtful and responsive to our clients in meaningful ways (Think)
  3. Solve problems, and if you can’t solve it alone, find someone who can help. (Innovate)

When my days get busy and I need to prioritize my time, I remember these three things and it helps keep everything in perspective.  I encourage you to come up with three things your business or organization needs to get right every day to bring a renewed sense of focus and clarity.

Net Promoter Score and the Customer Experience

Net Promoter Score and the Customer Experience

The Net Promoter Score is a management tool that can be used to gauge the loyalty of customers relationships.  In Savannah®, this survey is sent on a weekly basis to a random sample of recent customers to get immediate and continuous feedback, and responses are recorded and measurable within the business intelligence suite program.

View Three Recorded Sessions from the Savannah Community Forum 2017

View Three Recorded Sessions from the Savannah Community Forum 2017

Read about or watch the presentations from three library trailblazers from the Savannah Community who shared their expertise at our annual Savannah Community Forum (held during ALA 2017). Learn and be inspired to measure and manage success.

You’re Doing Marketing Wrong: Why Targeted Emails Make Your Cardholders Happy

You’re Doing Marketing Wrong: Why Targeted Emails Make Your Cardholders Happy

When it comes to library marketing, Angela Hursh knows what to do and what not to do. As the marketing content team leader of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County (PLCHC), Hursh exercises her marketing muscles daily. She offers her professional library marketing insights and expertise on her personal blog Super Library Marketing. (Note: Hursh's blog is not associated with the PLCHC.) Read more about her email marketing strategies here and download a free guide to Building Effective Targeted Messaging.

Measurement Can Help You Speak Volumes About Vision and Value

Value represents the public good our communities receive from the billions they invest in public libraries annually. Vision defines that benefit. However, a vision without a means of measuring its value is unconvincing, and value without vision lacks meaning. OrangeBoy’s Founder and CEO explains our simple approach to delivering and communicating value.