The evidence is clear: people have better recall for images than text. Including attractive images that dramatize your speaking points will significantly increase your efficacy as a speaker.
Based on my experience in investment banking and strategy consulting, I’ve put together a 3-part series on how to prepare memos and presentations that people will read and believe. Part 1 was How to Write a Memo That People Will Actually Read, and Part 2 was How to Present so People will Hear. This is the 3rd and final part. I am using this series as training for my colleagues at ffVC, and also as feedback for entrepreneurs who want to know how to upgrade their pitches.
When I make a presentation, I ideally use a compelling image to emphasize the points I’m making. Ideally, I’ll have some hard data to support my point, and ideally I can figure out how to communicate that data visually, in a chart. I’m a strong believer in the philosophy of Edward Tufte, the foundational guru who has thought most systematically about how to communicate quantitative data in graphics. So I follow his approach to communicating a message with minimal chartjunk.
But, hard data is not always available. In the absence of a pertinent dataset, I like to use a powerful photograph or other image.
In picking images for a presentation, I think there are two main risks. The first is picking an overly obvious image. An image of people holding hands to represent teamwork falls into this category; it is trite and almost insulting. The second risk is using an image that is too creative for the audience to discern the immediate relevance to the topic at hand. As William Zinsser said in On Writing Well (paraphrasing), if you’re reading your own work and find a gem of a phrase that sticks out of your text, save it for future reference, but delete it from your text as a distraction. My goal in presenting images is similar; the image should be clearly relevant, but still clever and unique.
So I’ll brainstorm different ideas for an appropriate image, and then look for pictures or drawings that reflect my vision of what a good graphic should be. Google Image search is a great place to look for inspiration, but a bad place to find images you can use legally. Legal rights to use images you find randomly on the internet are a gray area for three reasons:
- The major search engines do not have accurate filters to distinguish between copyrighted and non-copyrighted images.
- It is often difficult to know whether the image you are using is in its original form, or copied from another site.
- A page does not have to list copyright information for a picture for that picture to be considered copyrighted.
There are some safe picture selection options, however. 500px (ff VC portfolio company) recently added a Creative Commons search option, which gives you the right to use images at no cost (like the image above). Almost all of their stunningly beautiful images not listed under Creative Commons are priced affordably for personal use. To find free, non-copyrighted images, I also suggest search.creativecommons.org, which restrict your search to images that are licensed for use under Creative Commons. Just tick the appropriate boxes based on whether you plan to modify the image and/or use it for commercial purposes. Also try Unsplash.com.
Please post links in the comments to any presentations that you think use images in a particularly creative way!
Recommended for further reading:
– Edward Tufte, all of his books
– Garry Reynolds, Presentation Zen
– Nancy Duarte, Slide:ology