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Excel Spreadsheet on a PowerPoint Slide?

15 January, 2018

Once we’ve finished creating a model, we then need to communicate the findings – often in the form of a PowerPoint slide. So what do we often see?  A spreadsheet copied directly into the slide.  In the example below, we’ve created business case and we’d like to present the financials. We can’t decide what to show, so we’ll just display everything. Nasty!

This kind of spreadsheet-on-a-slide results in far too many numbers being in the presentation, and leads to the audience being inundated by data and overwhelmed by detail. 

Remember, too many numbers means overwhelmed executives, and overwhelmed executives don’t make decisions!

Sometimes when a modeller has done this, the reason is simply that we’re being lazy. We can’t decide what is important and so all the information is presented instead.  We are so afraid of getting it wrong that instead of choosing particular number or metric to go on the slide, we’ll simply include everything and that way they can work it out for themselves. We are so overwhelmed by all the data that they have generated and simply don’t have either the time or the skills to disseminate it into a meaningful summary.  

Quite often however, we find that it is not just that the modeller is unwilling or unable to summarise the data but that our manager has requested it.  It is not uncommon to find that senior managers actually require the entire management report to be shown on the slide!  Let’s explore why this request might happen and what you can do about it.

The first question you should ask when your boss requests the full spreadsheet on the slide is why they want to see the full spreadsheet. They are clearly looking for something, and it will save you a lot of time if you knew what they were looking for. If they really only need to see the bottom line, just show them a clean visual or small table with the key figures. This is almost never the case unfortunately, so why else might they want to see so many numbers?

Let’s try to get to the bottom of why your boss is requesting to see the entire spreadsheet on the slide:

They don’t trust you.  They may never admit it but one possible answer is that they don’t trust your work and they need to see all the calculations that went into the result. If they have an issue with your work, they should be addressing it in a performance discussion, not a slide request.  You need to make sure that you keep readily available all backup assumptions and documentation that went into your model.  Then any queries or discrepancies in numbers can be quickly and easily answered, and over time, your boss will learn to trust your numbers.

We need it for documentation. A reason we hear frequently is that the slides are being used as documentation for either archives or as part of a contract, so all the details need to be there. While some commenters would suggest creating a separate document, I know you don’t have the time to do that. OK, so all the slides need to be in there, but we don’t need to display them in our Slide Show presentation.  Create slides that highlight the key points using visuals to communicate the message, then include the detailed spreadsheets as hidden slides in the file. That way, the details are there, but not seen in Slide Show mode.

We need to answer all queries.  Another common reason is that the boss wants the details there in case someone has a question. What they don’t realise is that putting all the details on the screen actually invites unrelated questions as people scour the spreadsheet finding areas they want to ask about. These areas are often unrelated to the message you want to communicate and derail the presentation. Again, put the details on hidden slides and add hyperlinks from your visual presentation slides to jump to the hidden detail slides if someone does have a relevant question.

Generally the most common reason the boss asks for the entire spreadsheet on the slide is because they aren’t getting what they need in most presentations. As Dave Paradi explains in his latest book, Select Effective Visuals, leaders need actionable insights on what needs to be done next. Insights that consider the context of the results, the relationships between the data and other factors. They are almost always only getting measurement results that answer what happened or performance results that answer how the results compare to a previous period or goal. They ask for the spreadsheet so they can figure out the insights themselves. If you provide them the insights they need, they won’t ask for the spreadsheet.  In the example below, we’ve summarised the key outputs under different scenarios, and included a visual with the cashflow versus customer numbers which provides much more insight that simply numbers on a spreadsheet. 

So the next time you receive a request for a spreadsheet-on-a-slide, try to find out why they are requesting the whole spreadsheet. Then use their answer to create slides that communicate the message more effectively and, if needed, include backup details in hidden slides. PS – a quick tip: when you are embedding charts, tables or (heaven forbid) a spreadsheet into a PowerPoint slide, don’t just copy and paste; rather paste the data in as an image or a JPEG.  There are a few reasons for this; firstly it reduces the size of your file, and the colours and themes will not change.  Also, when you embed a chart or table from Excel into PowerPoint, it also brings along the data behind it.  I’ve heard plenty of horror stories of modellers sending out PowerPoint files to clients and inadvertently including confidential data in the PowerPoint document which can then be accessed by anyone who double-clicks on the chart! Source: Dave Paradi, Think Outside the Slide.


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