What is wrong with the below slide*?

The slide from hell

Everything right?!

Let’s start with the most glaring issue – it has no ‘message’ on top. A neutral header does nothing to tell the audience what the slide is actually saying.

Now, in a previous post, we have seen the importance of crafting clear, surprising messages from your data. Messages that get the audience’s attention using the principle of norm and variance.

When you attempt to do this, however, you may get stuck at the next hurdle: choosing the right adjectives.

Adjectives? Do you mean like ‘good’, ‘bad’ and ‘ugly’? Well… yes, but slightly more nuanced. Consider the following messages – especially the italicised adjectives:

  • Sales have shown whopping growth (whopping – too dramatic)
  • Our performance has been super impressive (too informal for a corporate presentation)
  • Attrition rates have been bad (Really? ‘Bad’? That’s really nuanced…)

The issue here is that we tend to gravitate between two extremes when it comes to choosing such adjectives:

  • We use a small set of ‘standard/banal’ words to describe these metrics (e.g. revenue went up, NPS is the same as last quarter, profitability is lower than competitors etc.), or
  • We go for dramatic words, that may work in informal settings or in news headlines (tremendous, super-high, the pits etc.), but aren’t appropriate in a formal corporate setting^.

We are essentially using a very limited vocabulary for a very wide range of performance phenomena. Wouldn’t it be good to have a readymade list of potential words, to choose from, to describe various performance scenarios?

A bit like that scene in The Matrix, when Keanu Reeves says – “Guns, lots of guns” and immediately he’s in this cavernous room filled from floor to ceiling with every kind of firearm imaginable.

(I know – even I wanted to watch that scene again, after writing this. Here you go:

One of many iconic scenes from The Matrix (Produced by Joel Silver)

What. A. Swag.)

Imagine saying “Words, lots of words”, and having a rich collection of words to choose from…

The Descriptive Words Cheat Sheet

Presenting the ‘Descriptive Words Cheat Sheet’ – a ready reference guide for you to choose from, based on two factors inherent in your message from the data:

  1. The type of comparison factor in your message
  2. The intensity of the performance difference (low, medium, high)

What do I mean by comparison factor? Well, there are three basic types of comparisons we can do with data – over time, across other items (competition, internal teams etc.) and as a component (share) of something.

Here’s a quick overview.

Three most common comparison parameters

So then, based on the comparison factor and the intensity of the change, you can choose from the following set of words, to describe your key finding:

The Descriptive Words Cheat Sheet (by Ravishankar Iyer)

Now, a couple of disclaimers for the above:

  • The comparison factors can be more complex (you could be looking at more than one factor – such as increasing share over time). Use your judgement in such cases.
  • Also, this is clearly not a comprehensive list of words – feel free to keep adding to the list.

If you’d like a PDF copy of this to print and stick on your soft-board, I’m happy to share the same. Please drop me an email at ravishankar@storyrules.in.

Happy describing!


* Incidentally this is a slide from my first presentation during my consulting years. Let’s just say I’m happy I started rock-bottom – the only way was up.

^ A disclaimer – formal corporate setting doesn’t mean the use of stifling jargon and global corporate-speak such as ‘synergistic’, ‘value-addition’ and ‘paradigm-shift’. Plain, informal speak is great, especially in internal conversations. But often with clients, one needs to maintain decorum of speech. It’s a fine balance!

Featured image by Pisit Heng on Unsplash

1 Comment

  1. Nitin Charekar Reply

    Dear Ravi,
    Thanks for sharing useful information. Person having eye for detail uses precise words.

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