Microsoft Excel is probably best known for creating and working with spreadsheets.

Rows and columns of numbers. Calculations. Recalculations. Sums, sub-totals and totals.

All neatly presented in one document.

But Excel offers much more than just a stream of figures on the screen. It’s also very good at showing data in a visual way.

This makes it a really useful application for reports and presentations.

Consider all the benefits


  • Make it easier for the audience to take in the information
  • Create more interesting and engaging presentations
  • Help people to remember what you are saying
  • Help to explain complex data
  • Add variety to reports and presentations
  • Make it easier for people to analyse the numbers
  • Help people see trends and make comparisons

Excel does all the leg work of converting numbers to visuals for you.

Pile of round wooden numbers painted black and red

Excel allows you to create many types of chart

Excel offers a good range of charts so you can present information in the most relevant way.

The types you can create within this powerhouse Microsoft Office and 365 application include:

– Column Chart

– Pie Chart

– Line Chart

– Bar Chart

– Area Chart

– Scatter Chart (XY)

– Bubble Chart

– Stock Chart

– Combo Chart

– Radar Chart

– Doughnut Chart

– Surface Chart

Within chart types there may also be sub-types, expanding the range of options for presenting data in a clear, visual way.

Hitting the Charts

Column charts are usually used to compare data across a range of values.

For example, a company could show the revenue across its regional divisions for the financial year, or a financial quarter in the year, in a basic single-column chart.

It could also display the regional figures across a series of financial years. In this case, the data would be represented in a clustered column chart. Columns for each year (or quarter) would stand side by side for easy comparison.

The visual provides an instant understanding of what is happening with sales and revenue trends.

Another way to display regional sales performance over the years is with a stacked column chart. In this case, each column would show the total revenue and the proportion made by each region.

A variation in presenting column charts is to use a 3-D version. With this layout, the chart shows columns not as rectangles but as tall, thin boxes (two sides shaded to give a 3-D effect).

You could use this, for a different example, to show sales of houses, apartments and bungalows in a specific year, or across a range of years. Each category would have a different colour for its respective column.

Getting Trendy

If you are wanting to portray trends, one of the most common ways to do that is with a line chart. The information could relate to anything from monthly sales over a period of time to annual rainfall, temperature and sunshine levels.

If you wanted to show proportions or relative values, the humble pie chart is flavour of the day any day of the week. Ideal for illustrating market share within your industry or sector, or diversity of employees for HR analysis.

If you wanted to compare the revenue sales (or revenue distribution) of different products, a bar chart will do the job nicely.

An area chart is perfect for when you want to show the scale of change between two or more data points. Sir David Attenborough, for example, might show average annual temperatures and rainfall levels over the decades to highlight climate change.

For showing the correlation between two sets of data, one might go for a scatter chart (also known as an XY chart).

A variation of this is the bubble chart, where a third dimension is added, represented by the size of each bubble. For example, a scatter chart could illustrate how competency equates to employee performance. A bubble chart might have each bubble representing years of service, to help evaluate the relevance of experience in the comparison.

Make use of the Visual Power

The visual options in Excel are probably not given the credit they deserve. The value of visuals cannot be underestimated. This is a powerful function feature of the application.

If you want the essentials on creating charts in Excel you may find my online courses Essential Excel Skills for Business together with How to Create Excellent Spreadsheets just what you need. Together they cover way more than charts. Also included are autofill and an introduction to pivot tables, for example.

It doesn’t matter what computer you use. I created a version for Windows users
and a separate version for Mac. That’s because Excel works a little differently in each one. Either way, you’ll see me showing you what to do step-by-step.

Knowing how to create relevant data visuals for reports and presentations is a core skill for any assistant. Impress your bosses and clients. Save yourself time and frustration. Master it.

What charts do you tend to use most in Excel?

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