Learning to love PowerPoint

Optimise Tableau dashboards for presentations

Aug 2022

If there's one thing I've seen visualisation teams regularly fight, it's copy-and-paste.

BI professionals craft sophisticated interactive dashboards and are often disappointed when an audience's first reaction is to ignore the dashboard, export to Excel or copy-and-paste graphics to PowerPoint.

A nice dashboard

You make a nice dashboard...
(credit: Ellen Blackburn)

Terrible PowerPoint

...and they paste it (badly) into PowerPoint

In extremis, some central BI teams respond by turning off exports and explain themselves with grandiose arguments like "We're here to overturn your 1980's slide pack culture and help you embrace modern self-service analytics!"

I couldn't agree less.

If we have any respect for UX principles, we should be embracing people's natural love of Excel and PowerPoint. Fighting it simply makes the BI team a blocker.

So I set myself a challenge of pleasing everyone: How do we design a dashboard that encourages Tableau use, while embracing a company's existing PowerPoint workflows?

Here goes...

The scenario

(This is totally fictitious example but is typical of many firms I've worked with)

Execs at the Superstore Sales Company hold a trading meeting every Monday morning.

People from across the firm contribute to a PowerPoint deck that summarises key points and issues from the previous week in a short 30 minute meeting of senior leaders. The first slide always shows the latest trading figures.

PowerPoint works well for them for several reasons:

  • It's easy to use and edit

  • The pack has the same, familiar format every week

  • The pack can be presented to a live audience

  • The pack can be circulated for reading offline

  • Over time, the packs build up a written record of corporate thinking

Meanwhile Superstore Sales have invested considerable sums in their BI capability. They want to encourage a self-service culture and answer questions that arise in trading meetings much faster.

They love PowerPoint - but they also want to love Tableau. How do we do both?

Our spec

Let's create a sales dashboard that works in every medium. These are our requirements:

  • The dashboard should quickly summarise weekly trading figures

  • It should work as a Tableau dashboard, available securely to all stakeholders

  • It must be optimised for copying to PowerPoint

  • It must make sense without interactivity

  • It must have space for commentary

  • Output slides should work well when presented live

  • Output slides should make sense when read offline

Step 1: Main dashboard

This is the concept dashboard I created in Tableau to answer our spec:

Superstore Sales dashboard optimised for PowerPoint

There's some key points to the design:

  1. The dashboard has a fixed size of 1600 x 900px. This is the right aspect ratio for PowerPoint and I found it renders well when exported, whilst also being small enough to be viewed on most corporate devices.

  2. The object grouping leaves enough space around the edge for commentary and annotation on slides

  3. The design surfaces everything we need in its default, static state. There is interactivity (e.g. you could select a region and see all the KPIs change) but none of it is needed for key trading insight.

Step 2: Go mobile

If we want execs to use our dashboard, we need a great phone version.

I'll show you how we encourage them to use this below, but for now make sure you have a kick ass mobile version of the main dashboard.

💡 Tip: Tableau's auto-generated phone layout probably won't be great so spend some time polishing your own design before moving on.

Step 3: Export to PowerPoint

The team who produces each week's slide pack will love you for the next step... no more copying-and-pasting!

Simply use Tableau's native "Export to PowerPoint" feature to generate your slide pack.

Step 4: Add commentary

Meetings typically start with someone highlighting the key numbers and colouring each with a little insight.

Here's how to make commentary easy for the pack producers and the presenter:

  1. Create a template for comments to match your design style

  2. Add them to the slide around the edges, pointing to key numbers

  3. Setup basic animation so only one comment appears at a time. As you move to each comment, the previous should disppear. This lowers the cognitive load by focussing the audience's attention one point at a time

  4. Note when read offline, all the comments will appear at once. Perfect.

PowerPoint slide with commentary

Step 5: Add a QR code

Remember we want to encourage execs to use Tableau? A final flourish is adding a QR code to the slides which links straight back to the Tableau dashboard.

I've tried this on a few audiences and it had a remarkable reaction: Everyone pulled out their phones and were viewing the Tableau dashboard within seconds.

(Then they bookmarked the link and started using Tableau before their meetings and throughout the week.)

There's no better advert for self-service analytics.

There are hundreds of ways to generate a QR code but I found this Wix QR Code Generator very easy. Enter the URL for your Tableau dashboard, adding &:showVizHome=no to ensure your design fills the screen.

💡 Tip: Ensure stakeholders have access before the presentation. There's nothing worse than login difficulties and they may disengage completely if the experience isn't smooth. Ensure single sign-on and Tableau access permissions are in place and properly tested before you start.

Wrapping up

You're done! This workflow should create a virtuous circle...

  • Automated pack production

  • Increased Tableau usage

  • Less boring slide shows

I hope this idea goes some way to creating workplace harmony and learning to work with PowerPoint culture. It certainly got a strong reaction in my own tests and I hope it's of some help elsewhere.

If you get your own version working, I'd love to hear about it!

Bonus link: I've had to present this idea a few times. A short slideshow of this post is freely available here.

Photo credit: Campaign Creators (Unsplash)