Jul 11 2009
By default PowerPoint or Excel 2007 will create multicolored pie charts or single-colored bar charts. Unfortunately, these default color combinations can cause charts to communicate less effectively unless they are modified.
In most cases, when you’re using charts in PowerPoint slides you’re trying to highlight a specific data point or a subset of data points:
- “Look at how much higher the revenue is for this product”
- “See how the average for this country is much lower than those of other countries”
- “Notice how the quality score of this product is practically the same as those of other cheaper products”
In each example, you’re isolating what is the most interesting or relevant data that supports the point you’re trying to make to your audience. The software has no way of knowing which particular data point is the main focus of your graph or chart. It is up to you — the presenter — to ensure that your charts communicate effectively to your audience.
Modifying Bar Chart Colors
When you create a bar chart in Excel or PowerPoint 2007, the software defaults to a single-color chart. With a one-color approach, your audience cannot quickly understand the emphasis of your chart. Everything is equal other than the size of the individual data points.
However, it’s not always the case that the biggest or smallest data point is the emphasis of your chart. You end up having to highlight part of the chart with a circle or arrow to draw your audience’s attention to a key data point on the chart. Alternatively, you may have to physically point or scribble on the part of the chart during your presentation. There is a better way.
Using a contrasting color on a specific data point will naturally draw attention to a particular area of the chart. In order to alter a chart’s colors, you left-click on the chart so that all of the elements of the chart are highlighted. Then left-click again on the specific element, you want to highlight. If you’ve isolated the data point correctly, it will be the only part of the chart with small circles on its end points. You can then click on the “Fill Color” button on the Home tab on the Ribbon and select an appropriate contrasting color.
Modifying Pie Chart Colors
If you stick with the default setting for pie charts, all of the pie slices receive a different color, which makes it more difficult to isolate a particular part of the pie chart. You can adjust the style to a “one-color” version, but you still have the same problem with knowing which “tone” is the emphasis of your chart.
Following a similar approach to the bar charts, it might be helpful to add a second color to a one-color style pie chart so that you can highlight the specific slice of the pie chart that you’d like to emphasize in your PowerPoint presentation.
PowerPoint ninjas know how and when to use colors to help communicate more effectively. Using contrasting color schemes in charts can help isolate key areas in your PowerPoint charts and help your charts to be more easily “digested” by your audience.