As an admission director, your board is looking for you to inform them about the state of enrollment at your school. Big data, infographics and data visualization are all hot topics these days. The bar is being set higher and expectations about the quality, content and look-and-feel of your data reporting is going up.

Throughout 2015 Ravenna added significant data capabilities and we now have tools that provide our admission directors with unprecedented access to strategic and tactical decision-making data.

We also recognize that ours will only be one source of data you’ll be using to report to your board. We’ve been talking with our Ravenna community and have some insights and tips on how to take all the information that is being made available to you and best present it to your school’s leadership.

In this first article, we’ll talk about content: Are you most effectively providing the board with the information they want and need? In next week’s article, we’ll further discuss the visual aspect of board reports and include some very specific advice about sprucing up those data-dense Excel tables and charts.

Rethink what you’re presenting the board
A typical enrollment board report might be made of a set of tables representing total predicted enrollment at the school next year, attrition reports, historic trends, your funnel statistics, and data on how well you are enrolling mission-appropriate students. This set of reports is fabulous and your board will appreciate the details – but…What are you presenting to the board as you stand in front of them at the meeting?

In the short time you have with your board, walking them through a set of spreadsheets and tables is not the most impactful way to tell the true story of enrollment at your school. Spreadsheets and tables make great handouts – but an effective board presentation tells a story with data visualization.

When planning your presentation, consider the following:

  • What do you consider your measure of success? Is it enrolling to exactly the board budget number? Is it increasing the diversity of your school? Is it showing that your school is more selective than ever? Whatever that goal is (and it is different for every school), make sure that you have provided clear and focused data on your achievements toward that target.
  • How can you humanize the numbers? Remember that stories are far more memorable and impactful than dry numbers. The board requires numbers as evidence but they will walk away remembering the stories.
  • Are you reporting or persuading? There will be times in your school’s growth and evolution that your school’s leadership may be advocating for change. Remember, if you are in such a place (for example, there is a desire to expand the campus and increase enrollment, or to allocate higher amounts of financial aid), your presentation should be helping to build a persuasive case. Your data should lead your audience down a path to a conclusion you hope they adopt.

As you build your slides for your presentation, there are a few general rules that can help with the visual impact.

1. Make your point.
Every slide should have a point (or maybe two), and that point should be clearly articulated in your slide. If you are presenting a chart with your enrollment numbers, consider stating your point in the header. You hit your number, or you’re still working hard to fill some empty seats. Don’t leave it to them to figure out your point solely by looking at all the detailed numbers.

2. Use call-outs to drat attention to what’s most important.
If you have a data-dense chart, use call-out boxes with comments to draw attention to the important information.

3. Use color to draw attention to what’s important.
Color can be an effective way to visually see groupings in a table of data. Attach significance to a color so that it can be clearly seen. In a dense data table, consider a heat map – that is, color cells based on criteria (higher than last year, lower than last year). Use gray to downplay the data that is not critical. Again, the goal is to help the board understand your point without having to scan through large amounts of data in a short amount of time.

4. Humanize your presentation.
Admissions is all about people. Adding stories helps make your point in a compelling way. Photos can be prompts for these stories and can make your presentation more visually appealing. It should go without saying, but use photos of your students, faculty/staff or coaches. Always avoid using stock photography!

There is a significant difference between data and information. Data alone is raw and makes no conclusion. Information is created when data is processed, analyzed and subsequently made useful. As an admission director, you are the subject-matter expert and the board turns to you for your analysis and conclusions. Help them by making sure your presentation is not slide after slide of data, but rather a focused and relevant reflection of your thoughtful conclusions.

The next article in this series will be a very practical look at how to elevate the look of your tables and charts in your board presentations. A few simple tricks in Excel can help you bring visual appeal to the data you present and help the board focus on the information you are striving to get across. Stay tuned.