Is the drawing above showing the image of a duck or a rabbit? Well, it depends on how you present it, and what your audience sees and/or wants to make of it. Actually, most of people may think it’s a bird with a long bill. But when you put on the picture and tell them you’re showing a rabbit, you can bet on it that the majority of the people in the room will keep seeing a rodent with long ears.
The duck-rabbit image was made famous by Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, as a means of describing two different ways of seeing: seeing that vs. seeing as.
Presentation Zen author Garr Reynolds has described another case of how a presenter can influence (or even manipulate) perception. The example below shows how a table may be (mis)used as an alternative to a bar chart to display hard numbers in a less dramatic or emotional way.
The inevitable conclusion after observing the bar chart is that product C is poorly underperforming. And though the grid displays exactly the same information, some people may not even notice the dramatic revenue gap with the other products.
Writing about the duck and the rabbit made me also think about another animal story: the fable of the tortoise and the hare. There are different moral conclusions that can be drawn from this tale, but my personal favorite is that it’s not about what capabilities you have (or how much data you’ve gathered), but about how you actually apply them (or how you visualize and explain the numbers.)
Big data is a popular topic these days, but IMHO there are still a few too many number fetishists around – also among professional presenters. In next week’s post I will give some examples that show why (an abundance of) figures may be meaningless, boring or even dangerous. And present some best practices for selecting, interpreting and displaying numbers in your presentations.