No More Confusing Visuals

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By now, pretty much everyone knows that it’s much more effective – for audience understanding and retention – to use images (such as graphs, charts and illustrations) rather than text. It’s especially important when presenting numbers or other types of technical data and when explaining processes. Clients will obligingly replace their text-only slide with an image, but that doesn’t necessarily make the message clear. In fact, some images are more confusing than a text-only slide would be!

Here are some tips for creating visuals that will enhance your words, which is, after all, their purpose.

  • One idea per image. It’s too much for an audience member to have to figure out several contexts at once. Speak to one idea per slide, using a simple illustration of it, and use a different slide and image for the next point. You may spend more time creating the visuals, but what good is an “all-in-one” slide if no one can decipher it?
  • Eliminate the unnecessary. Just because you have a lot of data, doesn’t mean you need to include it all in your visuals. Some of us think we need to include everything because everyone else does, or because the audience should have access to all the information. If they need it, give it to them as a handout which they can peruse at their leisure. If you drown people with unnecessary data during the presentation, your visual will have been wasted. No one will know what’s important, which leads us to…
  • Highlight important information. When you justifiably have a lot of data on your one-idea slide (e.g., a graph showing a trend over time) and you are speaking to one aspect or point in the data (e.g., the intersection of two lines on the graph), as you explain the point, highlight it visually. Something as simple as a red circle around a data point focuses the audience’s attention where it needs to go, visually reinforcing the information they are receiving via your words.
  • Make it legible. Here there are several issues: Color (always use colors for text and images which stand out from the background color), font style (simple), font size (must be large enough to read easily, even within graphs and charts), and keys for charts and graphs (make the colors/line styles substantially different from one another, and give a large enough portion of the color/line style in the key so it’s easy to plug into the image.)

Whatever you choose to put your visuals, remember that your audience is seeing this for the first time, and that they only have a few moments to figure out what they are looking at. So in addition to using the guidelines above, when the slide goes up, take time to orient them, to explain what they are looking at, to highlight the important information, and to interpret the information. That will add tremendous value to your visuals…and to your presentation.

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