I was working with a friend of mine on a sales presentation she's going to be giving to a venture capital firm. Her original presentation was full of bullet points, some of which I helped her convert to graphs.

During our conversation, she asked me if there was some kind of rule about when to use a graph and when to use bullet points. I scratched my head for a moment and then remembered something that Stephen M. Kosslyn (author of the book Clear and to the Point) told me.

So I dug through my notes and found these three rules:

• RULE #1: Always use a graph to illustrate relative amounts. A graph communicates easily that one thing is larger than another. If you use only with words and numbers, the customers must do mental mathematics. Why ask the customer to do unnecessary work?
• RULE #2: Always use a graph to communicate complex data. If your data contains multiple elements (like sales over time), a graph is the best way to communicate. However, don't crowd the the slide with data lest it become a puzzle-solving exercise. Keep it simple.
• RULE #3: Always use a graph if that's what the customer expects. If a customer is used to seeing certain kinds of data displayed as graph, do the same! Always use graphs and measures that are familiar to the customer, and if there's a chance you'll be misunderstood, explain the graph!
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