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Millions of people use Microsoft Excel every day, and have for many, many years. We all take it for granted, and rely on it heavily. Microsoft continues to evolve the product, but it already has so many features that most people are intimidated by the thought of a new release.
When someone sends us a workbook, we cringe or blandly accept it. We know it will be filled with numbers we'll have to struggle through, maybe a few charts to tease the eye. Boring. Tedious. Far from sexy! In a way, that is a good thing...people don't have high expectations from spreadsheets any more. It is easy to impress.
One rule: do not produce what some people refer to as "data puking" -- sending out reams and reams of numbers with no context or guidance or recommendations. It doesn't take much to highlight a finding, and observation; just bold the number and add a comment or a sidebar. Use a touch of color...but not the standard ones that people see in every spreadsheet. Highlight one thing.
Such little effort can have an astounding result: people see things that are different. They notice the effort. Don't just surprise them...be remarkable. Try to answer the urgent question in their mind when they open your workbook. Pick one, tell them the answer, or at least what you recommend or how you interpret it.
Just like a good email subject line, hook them and pull them into your report where they can find their own path.
Mike Sullivan is the founder of Analytics Edge, providing simple Excel-based report automation products for individuals and small businesses.