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Choosing the right visuals – observations from a presentations pro


Choosing the right visuals – observations from a presentations pro


Too many presentations are cluttered with slabs of text, charts and corporate jargon, according to Emma Bannister. A good presentation should connect on an emotional level and leave its audience inspired.

I’ve always been fascinated by how people understand information, probably because the learning methods at school rarely engaged me. Even now, if I’m told something – a sequence of words, an address, even people’s names – I forget it in seconds. Why?

From a young age, we were taught to associate words with images or objects (remember A is for apple, B is for banana), then suddenly this stops and everything becomes just words.

Teachers, corporates and presenters show dense text and bullet-pointed slides on a projector. At work, we are subjected to reports, strategy meetings and whiteboards that follow the same formula.

Yet according to Dr John Medina, author of New York Times bestseller Brain Rules, we have an incredible memory for pictures. He explains, “The more visual the input becomes, the more likely it is to be recognised and recalled.” In fact, 90% of what the brain processes is visual information.

In cognitive theory, this is called the ‘picture supremacy effect’ – people generally understand and remember pictures better and faster than they do words alone.

Given that we are hard-wired for visual learning, this means you need to embrace diagrams and imagery that emphasise or explain your points in a presentation. You need minimal text and lots of images so your audience can retain your information.


Picture it

Vision is our primary sense (making up 70% of our sensory receptors), so photography, icons or illustrations can help simplify and communicate information clearly.

Images also create an emotional connection to what you are saying, which helps your audience remember it. Think of the meaning or the feeling you are trying to evoke and represent that. Bad news… cold shivers? Think dark skies and raindrops on a window. Positive news… smiles and joy? Think laughing people and a bright yellow sun.

Avoid hand-shaking figures, smiling suited people, little vector people standing on arrows and graphs, and predictable and boring stock images that have been used a hundred times before.

Cheesy stock photos have the opposite effect than the one you want – they turn your audience off.

Instead, include real photos of your team in your presentation – make it about them and their future (because it is). I’ve also seen video used quite effectively to engage with the audience and pull on the heart strings.


Powerful versus poor

Presentations should be treated no differently to any other marketing collateral or consumer-facing information. In fact, you should invest more care, attention, time and effort into them because shareholders, customers, clients, colleagues and the public see them time and time again.

Remember, a powerful presentation has content that is clear, easy to understand and uses simple language and images that connects and engages your audience through a balance of emotion and analytics.

Your audience, your team, will leave the presentation feeling different –perhaps inspired or excited to act on what you want them to do.

A poor presentation on the other hand, has content that is overloaded with facts, stats, numbers, corporate jargon and dense text. It leaves everyone feeling confused, turned off and disengaged. They will leave the room with no idea of what to do next – except never attend one of your presentations again.

Using strong visual references helps create clarity and a much stronger emotional connection with your audience. It’s these kinds of emotions and visuals that they will remember long after your presentation is finished.


Emma Bannister is the founder and CEO at Presentation Studio.









Image copyright: stockbroker / 123RF Stock Photo


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