If Carlsberg did charts, they’d probably do them like this…

Us finance people are obsessed with actual, budget, last year comparisons.

We just seem to love them.

We very quickly create large tables of numbers comparing actual, budget and last year.

The current month isn’t enough.

We do YTD and full year too.

For the whole P&L.

Then we add some ratios.

Pretty soon our table looks like this.

Marketeers know a little secret that no-one told us finance people.

They know that just about the worst way to bring numbers to life is to use a table of numbers.

So next time you want something different.

Something that will stand out.

Something that will make you and your message more memorable.

Give some of these alternatives as go.

Simple bar

This is nice because your audience will find it really easy to get to grips with the numbers.

Even without the numbers they can see that actual is above budget and last year.

This simple chart shows absolutes, relatives and variances – all beautifully intuitively.

It really does communicate a lot, quickly and easily.

Note: you may be wondering why it’s a horizontal bar, when most of the time we do vertical bars. We naturally read left to right, so a horizontal bar works better than a vertical one – notice how you ‘read’ the chart below.

Combination bar

This is probably my favourite chart to show variances.

In one chart you get the whole message.

The line also delivers a powerful unconscious message – either not quite making the line, or stepping over it.

Note: you may be wondering why you can’t find this in Excel. It’s because it doesn’t exist. For years I hacked these up in powerpoint using shapes. Recently someone far better at Excel than me has created a template that makes it much easier. You can download it below for free!

Still not sure?

Which one below brings the numbers to life better?

So what next?

Next time you are presenting actuals compared to budget or last year, give this a go.

Step away from tables of numbers, and show your audience something different.

Not only will your numbers be more memorable, so will your message, and so will you!

Here’s the bar chart template to download, plus some others you may find useful:

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