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Speaking Visually: Eight Roles Pictures Play in Presentation

Applies to: All versions of PowerPoint

Author: Robert Lane and Andre Vlcek

Date Created: April 15th 2009
Last Updated: June 14th 2012

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Reduced Learning Time: Australia’s Dr. Bryan Mendelson is one of the world’s foremost authorities on facial reconstruction. His surgical techniques and perspectives have revolutionized the way we think about facial operations. Needless to say, his expertise is coveted and aspiring plastic surgeons seek him out for the richness of his knowledge base.

Courtesy Dr. Bryan Mendelson
Figure 8: Courtesy Dr. Bryan Mendelson

Fortunately for them, Bryan is more than just an excellent surgeon. He’s also an accomplished teacher and presenter—and a stunningly good visual communicator. His slides are packed full of pictures and realistic illustrations that depict anatomical features and surgical best practices.

Courtesy Dr. Bryan Mendelson
Figure 9: Courtesy Dr. Bryan Mendelson

Displaying such imagery during lectures and teaching sessions not only fixates the attention of audience members, it dramatically reduces their learning time, especially during discussions of sophisticated procedures. Listening to one of Bryan’s talks creates the impression of being right there in the operating room, helping with the surgery. You see what he see’s and get a visual tour of what he knows. His slides are like biological road maps that quickly guide students and peers through the mysterious workings of skin, bones, tendons, and nerves. The good news is, you can emulate the same time-saving techniques with strategic use of your own pictures. All you have to do is think to yourself, “How can I show them what I am saying verbally?” When people see real imagery that dynamically expands upon verbal descriptions, they grasp concepts much more quickly compared to listening (only) to someone talk or listening while looking at bullet points.

Figure 10

Comparison Contrast: Another simple, yet valuable, use of content images involves comparing one image to another—to highlight differences, growth, contrasts, projected outcomes, or any other shift from one position to another. Such comparisons can take several forms.

We like to show one image full-screen, such as the ‘before’ remodeling picture in Figure 10, and then follow with a full-screen ‘after’ image (Figure 11). Viewers see only one picture at a time; the contrast between the two occurs sharply—one and then the other.

Figure 11

Another option is to place two images side-by-side on the same slide so that people can see contrasts immediately (Figure 12), or opt for a modified side-by-side model where the first example is visible initially, followed by fading in the second image shortly thereafter. Similarly, you might choose to contrast several alternative proposals by displaying a single original picture, accompanied by various alternative options. Be creative and explore different possibilities. Showing contrasting images is easy, and the impacts of doing so can be dramatic.

Courtesy Dr. Bryan Mendelson
Figure 12: Courtesy Dr. Bryan Mendelson

Analogy: If you wish to explain abstract ideas with pictures, creating an analogy probably is your best bet. An analogy is something known that helps clarify something unknown. If a person is familiar with the “known” scenario, they will be able to apply it to the unknown situation through comparison.

With a little creativity, you will be able to create visual analogies for just about any idea. The general formula is, “To give you a sense of what I mean, think about this … “ with the ‘this’ being the analogy.

Here’s an example of how we apply visual analogy on a regular basis:

While introducing learners to interactive presentation techniques during workshop sessions, we navigate around within a massive PowerPoint-based platform that contains many thousands of slides. Viewers often take one look at that navigation process and think, “Are you kidding? You think I’m going to get up in front of an audience and spontaneously jump around like that? You gotta be crazy.” Basically, the thought of making similar on-the-spot decisions, while already scared to death behind the podium, is too scary and unknown. They can’t yet imagine themselves in such a position.

Figure 13

We say, “OK. You’re right. This probably does look a little scary right now, but it really isn’t. Presenting this way is just about as easy as tying your shoes. Here’s why.” About that time, we show the picture in Figure 13—a standard Microsoft stock photo, by the way. We continue by saying, “The reason all of us can tie our shoes so quickly and easily, without even thinking about the process, is because we’ve repeated the procedures countless times and our actions have become automated. The same thing happens while driving a car (Figure 14) or pursuing a favorite sport (Figure 15).”

Figure 14

Figure 15

“Automated responses allow us to perform otherwise complex activities with very little thought or effort. The exact same mechanisms are at work during interactive presentation. You eventually become so familiar and comfortable with the way your slides are organized and linked that presenting dynamically—even moving around within thousands of available slides—seems pretty simple. It’s not scary at all.”

Stock photos often work well for visual analogy applications. Just make sure that the images chosen represent concrete, well-known situations that truly do clarify the unknown information you are presenting.

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