The human brain sees and recognizes pictures before it recognizes words. It also processes images and words differently. According to Lynell Burmark, an expert on visual literacy, words are processed by short-term or working memory, but images go straight into long-term memory. When you use both words and pictures, you are actively engaging both working and long-term memory.
Similarly, words are processed primarily in the left-frontal lobe, left-temporal lobe, and the pre-frontal cortex. Images, though, are processed primarily in the visual cortex in the occipital lobe. Thus, images in your presentation will steer your message into your audience’s long-term memories and activate multiple areas in their brains.
How do you go about adding visuals to your presentations? Fortunately, that’s an easy question to answer and a degree in graphic design isn’t required. There are many tools available to find or create presentation visuals, including three simple questions to ask yourself to get you started visualizing your message. These questions can spawn creative ideas for images, illustrations, and other visuals to your next presentation.
What’s the one thing I want my audience to remember? Holding your presentation’s core message front and center directs your attention and provides a context for the brainstorming you’re about to do. What is the big idea in your presentation? Is it that the year-end results were better than expected or that option B is better because it aligns with business goals?
Keeping the core message in your mind will steer you to choose visuals that will keep your big idea in their mind. Especially because you’re about to brainstorm, holding your presentation’s big idea front and center will serve as a compass and steer you away from tangents as you hunt for images.
Example: I worked with Ronnie Duncan, president of TimelyText, to refresh a presentation on interviewing skills. The key message of the presentation was that first impressions are especially important in an interview setting.
What does that (the one thing) look like? Asking what the one thing looks like warms up your visualization muscles so they are ready to envision or visualize your big idea. What comes to mind when you think about it?
When I’m designing a presentation, I often ask others what comes to mind when they think about the one thing. I appreciate the different perspectives my colleagues bring, and their ideas broaden my own as I think of ways to envision my presentation’s key message.
Internet image search engines such as Google Images or Bing are great resources for picturing what your core message could look like. (I am not saying that you can or should use those images in your presentation, but only that these websites can help you generate ideas for representing your idea visually.)
Example: When Duncan and I were brainstorming first impressions, we asked each other “What comes to your mind when you think about what makes a bad first impression?” We came up with smoker’s breath, food in your teeth, and a disheveled appearance.
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