Why Less is More When Presenting to Clients

Mar 5, 2010 8:19:16 AM

How can you better present your information to your audience? That was a question the KW Research department recently asked themselves. They were reading Yale University Professor Edward Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, looking for great ideas for displaying research data to maximize the presentations they create for agents.

I know…charts and graphs aren’t the most exciting subject and may not strike you as being relevant to what we do in the real estate industry, but there is a pearl in this that can be helpful to your bottom line.

As a professional who regularly presents data at listing presentations and buyer consultations and at other points throughout the transaction, your ability to convey that information largely depends on how it is presented. It’s not your public speaking skills that are in question; I’m referring to what’s on the page.

According to the American Institute of CPCU, approximately 65 percent of the population consists of people who prefer visual learning, with only about 30 percent of the population preferring auditory learning, and a fractional 5 percent preferring to learn by doing. So, when it comes to sharing vital statistics that you hope will lead your clients to make the right decisions about things like list price, some will be listening to what you’re saying, but many may be politely nodding while trying to focus on the information in your listing presentation packet.


Knowing this, how good a job do you think your listing presentation materials do at presenting vital market statistics and information? If your clients are like most people who pick up a magazine and only skim through the photos, would they be able to quickly come to the conclusions you want? If you’re not purposeful about how you present that information page, then the chances are slim.

So how do you get purposeful about presenting data? This is the question our Research department was trying to answer to get better at providing you tools you can use in your business. Along the way, they picked up a few concepts from Tufte’s book that may be helpful to you in creating your materials. Here are a few:

  • A graph or chart should be devoted to data, period. Keep it simple and avoid elaborate graphic elements. Assuming that the client wants to know the information, and you’re not trying to lure them into looking at the data with “sizzle,” then aesthetics (color, etc.) only matter if they help the client better understand the information.
  • Every line and every dot on that graph or chart MUST require a reason to be there. Resist the temptation to be redundant by eliminating elements that repeat the same information. If it’s not necessary, then get rid of it.
  • Consider the take-away, and don’t let your point get lost. What point do you want your clients to understand from the chart or graph? Focus on the message you’re trying to convey, and make it the center of attention.
  • Take the time to revise and edit.

If that’s a little too philosophical, I’ll take a common graph you probably show clients regularly and show these concepts at work:

First, the not-so-good graph:

Mortgage Rates

Now, the same information using some of Tufte’s principles:

2009 Mortgage Rates

Both graphs are saying the same thing, but the second graph is obviously cleaner and simpler. The superfluous lines are removed, redundant information (“mortgage rates” in the header and along the Y axis) has been consolidated, and vital information (the year in question) has been added to the header.

I’d also suggest two more important changes. First, there are 16 mortgage rates plotted on the graph, but there are 26 dates on the X axis. Why? Those 10 additional dates not only don’t serve a purpose, but worse, they confuse the viewer and beg the question “Which dates correspond to the rates shown?”

Second, one element I’d suggest adding that would help the client quickly get the “so what” out of the information would be a horizontal line through the middle of the graph representing the historical average rate, with the numerical value on that line. That would allow the client to quickly see the current rates in a more comparative light, as illustrated in the graph below.

2009 Mortgage Rates

I hope this helps you in your presentations. What have you found works for you in presentations?