Whether you are presenting slides or sending out a dashboard to your Board of Directors, every single time you share numbers or graphs or a table, it’s your job to start with simply explaining “this is what this means.”
Of course, in the best cases your slides and numbers will speak for themselves. And, in case they don’t, or they don’t do that job well enough, it’s your job to make sense of them for your audience.
When giving presentations, adhere to the discipline of “clearing a slide” each and every time: name each axis, or each column, or what that trendline represents. Actually say out loud, “on the vertical axis we have fourth grade test scores, and on the horizontal axis you’ll see January 2014 and 2015 – so we can see the effect of the new teachers’ aides who started in March 2014.”
Some goes for piles of data you send to folks: verbally, or in writing, communicate as if they aren’t going to read the attachment. Because in the worst cases, they won’t, and even if they do, they don’t have the context you have for understanding the story the data tell.
Minimally, this sets people on the right path towards looking at the numbers with your guidance and insight. But what you’re actually doing is framing what the numbers mean, guiding and controlling the story that they tell.
On the continuum of data, information, and meaning, you’re in the meaning-making business each and every time.