How to teach charting in Excel in 15 minutes

It's best to be thorough when introducing a new subject, but trainers don't have the luxury of unlimited time. These Excel tips on how to teach charting in 15 minutes will help you cover a lot of ground in a short period of time.

Teaching an onsite course in beginning Excel to a group of sales and marketing managers who work together can be challenging—especially when each person is called out of class on “urgent business” for extended periods of time. One class I taught, in fact, was interrupted continuously when every student was called out of class for at least 30 minutes. The department manager was out of the classroom more than he was in it.

Despite all the interruptions, the students did their best to get through the dozens of step-by-step exercises in the course. By 4 P.M., however, I could see everyone was frustrated. Some students even politely mentioned that they needed to get back to their desks and tie up some loose ends so they wouldn’t have to stay past 5 P.M.

The pressure was on
I looked at the students’ faces and knew there was no way they were going to go through another step-by-step exercise—let alone work through the final course lesson on how to use Excell’s Chart Wizard. As they looked at me skeptically, I realized I had only 15 minutes to teach the final lesson on charting.

I put aside the course book, and asked them to go back to a simple spreadsheet similar to the one below that they had worked with earlier.

Then I asked them to select cells C6 through F13, after which I had them hit the F11 key. The chart below appeared on their screens.

Now the class was excited. I picked up on their enthusiasm and said, “Let’s try to make this chart easier to read.”

I had them click the drop-down arrow of the Chart Type tool in the charting toolbar. (If the student doesn’t have a charting tool bar, have them right-click any tool bar on the screen and then select Charting from the shortcut menu.) I then asked them to choose the 3-D Chart Type button from the drop-down Chart Type menu. Immediately, the chart type changed on their screen, as shown below.

They now wanted to try it out on their own! I let them spend a few minutes creating other versions of the chart using the Chart Type tool.

Someone then asked how she could change the appearance of her chart, such as change the color of the bar for March from yellow to blue. I then demonstrated how they could change anything on the screen by simply right-clicking the object they wanted to change.

For example, to change the color of a series, they would right-click one of the bars in the series, and then click on Format Data Series and select the color they wanted in the Patterns Tab.

To add a title to their chart, I showed them how to right-click the chart background area and then choose Chart Options, and type in the new title under the Titles tab.

After making these changes, the students had a chart that looked like the chart below.

Now, even the department manager was ready to develop new charts from the data. This time I told them to create a chart that would show which food item brought in the most revenue for the first quarter. I asked the students to select the labels for the food items (C7 through C13), then press and hold down their control key while they selected the quarterly totals for each of the items (G7 through G13).

After making the appropriate selection, I had them press F11 again. The chart below appeared.

I told the students that this chart really doesn’t answer the question as well as it should because it is the wrong chart type! Again, I asked them to click on the drop-down arrow of the Chart Type button in the charting tool bar and had them select the 3-D Pie Chart button. Immediately the chart type changed to the one below.

To make it even more interesting, I had them right-click the pie chart and choose Format Data Series, then the Data Labels tab, and finally, Show Label and Percent. I also had them delete the legend and the gray background area, as well as add a title by right-clicking the chart, and selecting Chart Options.

Just for fun, I also had them click and drag out the biggest piece of the pie to emphasize that the biggest seller for the first quarter was the hot dogs. The resulting chart is shown below.

Fast, efficient, and effective training
My time was up. The students were ready to go back to their offices, all except the department manager. He returned to the original worksheet and continued to create even more charts from the data.
What do you do when you have a crucial part of the lesson left to teach but your time is almost up? What fast-on-your-feet tips do you use to cover the material swiftly but thoroughly? Send us your suggestions for teaching under pressure.

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