Next Slide Please

slide

I wouldn’t want to be PM right now (actually, I’ve always wondered why anyone would want to be Prime Minister – it appears to be an incredibly thankless task).

Whatever your politics, you must admit that Boris has an enormous hill to climb at the moment. Times are tough, emotions are at fever pitch and monumental decisions are having to be made and communicated at incredibly short notice. Yesterday evening was one of those times – like the majority across the UK, my family sat glued to the TV as the PM and his advisors shared the news that England was returning to lockdown for the next month.

Communicating information that impacts people’s health, families and livelihoods is always going to be fraught. A momentary glance at social media not only confirmed a national state of anxiety but also that some people are actively willing for the PM and his advisors to fail. In terms of audiences, I can’t think of a tougher crowd. This had to be flawless.

So, what followed in terms of visual communication is all the more baffling.

The slides shared were, in the main, completely indecipherable.

The ratio in which the slides were shared meant that key bits of data were missing.

The paragraphs of explanatory notes featured minuscule fonts, rendering them pointless and confusing.

Illogical layouts baffled rather than communicated.

Some of the chart types worked – in particular, the heatmap demonstrated the impact a visual can have in sharing complex data – but others were cluttered, complex and created a barrier between presenter and audience. Be grateful for small mercies – there was a notable lack of pie charts.

My WhatsApp feed lit up during the presentation, including one memorable comment from a friend: ‘These slides are making my teeth itch’

PLEASE don’t think this is a political statement. I’m fully aware that these visuals were pulled together quickly after Downing Street’s hand was forced by leaks to the press. And yes, the PM, SAGE, and their team of advisors have more pressing things to spend their time on than designing the perfect slide HOWEVER Saturday’s announcement highlighted the importance of sharing data clearly and in a way that connects with your audience.

Inevitably, social media was awash with people condemning the PM and his team for their presentation of the data. Whether it was the important stuff (key messages getting lost in a fog of indecipherable slides) or the petty (the lack of clicker use angered a sufficient number of people to have #nextslideplease trending/becoming a drinking game), the UK Government needs to understand the importance of getting this stuff right. It matters.