Charts v Text…Which Would You Choose?


Charts v Text…Which Would You Choose?

We’re all up against it when writing a bid or sales proposal and oftentimes you have limited space in which to get your point across or you might just need to make something easy for your audience to understand. Restrictions like a word count or page limit can reduce the possibility of using long narrative, or it might be that you have a complex technical issue that needs to be explained.

When this happens I often suggest that my clients use charts, graphics or more topically, infograms for greater efficiency and clarity. But are they really the panacea that they’re cracked up to be? Of course, they are very powerful tools and when applied properly provide an excellent method of conveying information graphically that would otherwise take a lot of words or space to explain.

But you know all of this, so why am I debating this issue here?

Well, I have been working with a client recently who is insistent on converting as much narrative as possible into charts. The problem with this blanket approach is that sometimes the narrative is required to tell a story and lead the reader to the conclusion you want them to get…it’s that ‘aha’ moment that happens at the end of the journey you’ve taken your client on from problem to product when they realise the purpose or the benefit of your solution.

Those of you familiar with my work will recognise this as the Vision 3Ps Process that I often bang on about! I’ve talked about it in many of my posts and you can read more by clicking this link and having a mooch around.

I’ve previously used an analogy of the 100m dash at the end of school sports day in primary school…if you have kids or a good memory you will recall the eager participants lining up, the gun going off and the frantic rush towards the finishing line. Amusement and frustration ensues amongst the parents when the leading child stops before the line and loses the race because the rival crosses the line as required and wins. Ahhhh!

Well, charts can sometimes have a similar effect when your client has travelled the journey but doesn’t cross the line because they simply don’t get what your talking about or worse, interpret the conclusion differently to how you wanted.

If the information you want to convey is relatively simple and requires no interpretation or if it can be easily displayed and understood without error then go for it and use the charts! However, if there is the slightest chance that your audience might need to fill the gap between the information you provide and their understanding of how that will help them to overcome their issue then I recommend you think twice.

My particular client wanted to transfer the narrative into a graphic format without really considering the impact and how their ultimate client needed to hear what they had to say. The issues under consideration required much more explanation that simply “this is it” and if you fail to provide it then your client will either apply their own ideas or just not get it at all.

Sometimes a longer narrative provides an opportunity to describe the problem in a way that will raise concerns in your client’s mind. You’ve seen the adverts on the TV for spot cream or some other medical intervention…“if you don’t buy Clearview Spotless Spot Crème you’ll end up looking like this and no one will love you” – a bit extreme I know but you get the idea!

What the ad does is to state the problem then provide the solution and in the end show you what it will do for you. A good narrative can do the same job where a chart might fall short. And, if you’re worried that you don’t have the space just consider the amount of time a TV ad uses…around 20-30 seconds and yet they can tell the story, give the solution and show you the benefit in a way that you cannot misinterpret.

It’s not that hard to write concisely and here is a quick tip. If you read my last post, ‘How a Big Fat Pen Can Improve Your Bid’ then you’ll already know the power of précis! So, just write normally without too much care for the length of the narrative. Now, get your big fat pen and strike out anything that doesn’t add value or tell your client what they need to know or answer the question you’ve been asked. Simplify your wording and remove long sentences, words or descriptions until it is as short as it can be. Check it again and apply the spot cream approach to make sure that your client can easily follow the journey to the conclusion you want them to reach.

Of course, I’m not advocating that you always use narrative in favour of charts but that you choose the most appropriate medium to get your point across in the way that your client wants to hear it. Charts are great for organograms, processes or lists and leave little room for misinterpretation whereas narrative is useful to tell your story and include language that persuades your client to favour your approach.

Top Tip

Take one of your old bids and check out the format…did you use charts or narrative or a combination of the two?

Were any charts you used easy to understand without any misinterpretation? Or, was your client left short and having to fill in the gaps between the information you provided and how your approach would help them fix their problem? Conversely, did the narrative provide a succinct story that was sufficiently persuasive? Could you have used a chart instead to get the information across quicker and would it have saved you any space or improved the appearance of your bid?

Next time, choose wisely between charts and narrative so you get that vital connection with your client and keep them on track with your message.

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