Getting visual with your PowerPoint slides

June 09, 2011 | Marketing, Presentations

Oh no, not another PowerPoint presentation. Not another guy reading words from slides like I’m an illiterate chump. Doesn’t he know that I haven’t been read to since a child, and that was to put me to sleep?

That’s a pretty typical audience reaction to presenters that almost always choke their slides with so much soporific text the audience goes into something resembling a catatonic state.

I think I’ll play with my smart phone. Or, better yet, where’s the exit?

Not all presenters are that clueless, of course. Some have actually reduced their content down to a few brief bullet-points per slide to serve as triggers for their narrative.

Much better. But it can get better still.

Presenters can make their slide decks far more stimulating and memorable by using visual images – photographs, graphic designs, illustrations and such.

Research has unequivocally demonstrated that audience members’ ability to remember visual images is far greater than remembering the text that appears on the screen, or the narration they hear. One research project found that, when tested 72 hours after exposure, people remembered 10 percent of info presented orally and 65 percent of info presented in pictures.
This is why it’s important we use imagery in our PowerPoint presentations.

The most entertaining PowerPoint presentation I ever attended consisted solely of photographs – one photo per slide and zero text. The presenter – who was talking about the economy, believe it or not – had the audience in stitches because he used comedic concept photos to illustrate his narration. For example, he said, “When interest rates started rising, this was the effect on the housing industry.” He instantly clicked to the next slide which contained a photograph of a badly smashed automobile. The audience roared.

I’m not suggesting turning your presentation into standup comedy routines. That’s always dangerous, and often inappropriate. What I am encouraging you to do is apply the power of imagery to captivate your audience, and perhaps even trigger the desired emotion for the situation.

Strong visual imagery – widely and inexpensively available on many stock photo sites – can do the trick. Take a look at the visuals I’ve included in this blog post as examples.

The first one, a pair of striking blue eyes, easily serves to cue the presenter that his or her next topic is a company or industry outlook. Or perhaps it’s time to talk about the company’s visionary or aspirational focus.

The lightning photo would be a visually arresting reminder that it’s time to talk about the electric utility’s new power grid. Pair the appropriate photograph with the narrative content and the absorption rate among audience members grows.

If our presentation is not memorable, what’s the point?

Take the burglar photograph. I’ll bet you can think of several topics for which that image can serve as a visual trigger. Such as data theft, or identity theft, or home security, or how your company has managed to steal market share from competitors.

The castle photo on this page (from Color Buzz) might be just the reminder a videogame company executive needs to start bragging about his latest offering, which perhaps allows players to participate in history’s greatest medieval battles.

How about an emotional-leaden image? If your talk is about the number of young girls who disappear every year because of foul play, the photo of abandoned red shoes on a muddy, rain-soaked ground might transfix the audience and convey the sense of loss and sorrow.

You get the idea. Now be creative. Be powerful in your communication. Be visual.

Mike Consol teaches public speaking, PowerPoint presentation skills and business writing to companies and business professionals in the Oakland-San Francisco-San Jose Bay Area. Contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 925-449-1040.

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