Increasing Impact with Media

Learning Outcome

  • Identify effective use of visual media in presentations, documents, spreadsheets, and messages

Speakers don’t need visual media to make a point. Just watch any stand-up comedian, and you’ll see that an engaging message can be delivered with nothing but a good story and a funny punchline. Microsoft PowerPoint and Apple Keynote offer speakers the opportunity to reinforce their messages visually, and, if done right, this can have a powerful impact on audiences. Some PowerPoint presentations are not done as well as they could be, so let’s turn our focus on ways to be more effective with visual media in presentations.

The PowerPoint Myth

If you Google the words “PowerPoint” and “bad,” you get over ninety million results. It’s been fashionable for a while to bash presentation software—especially PowerPoint—as stultifying or boring. But as anyone who has seen a bad presentation without the use of technology, you know that boring presentations did not start with PowerPoint.

For example, if you try to pound a nail in with the claw side of a hammer—or worse yet, with the handle of a screwdriver—do you blame the tool for being ineffective? No, of course not. Blaming PowerPoint for dull presentations and even duller presenters does not get at the core issue.

Even when the software could practically construct the presentation for you, you still need to focus on the best ways to present your message to your audience in the most effective way possible, including relevant visuals as needed.

There are a few key things to remember when creating visuals that you’re going to use to present to an audience. If you work on formulating satisfying answers and goals, your presentation should be effective and persuasive.

When you analyze the audience’s needs and hone your message you are completing a process of creating visuals for your spoken presentations.

In addition, you will want to keep two other key points in mind:

  1. Presentations happen in real time. Unlike the exchange between audience and recipient that happens with an email or report, so you want to be respectful of your audience’s time.
  2. A business presentation is effective when it helps everyone in the room do their work effectively. If after the presentation, if people are talking about how gorgeous your slides are or how funny you were, rather than about the topic of your presentation, you might not have been focused on the important aspects of your task.

To Watch: Nancy Duarte, “How to tell a story”

In this short video, presentation expert Nancy Duarte talks about the importance of storytelling in a business context.

You can view the transcript for “Nancy Duarte: How to Tell a Story” here (opens in new window).

One more critical question to ask yourself is this: are you delivering a speech or giving a business presentation?

If you are giving a speech—where you expect no back-and-forth conversation with your audience—then you probably don’t need visuals at all. Obviously, if you’re giving a speech about the details of an ancient Roman sculpture, it helps to show a picture, but speeches are scripted and rehearsed, so you don’t absolutely need words or images on your screen for you or for your audience.

If you are giving a business presentation, you might need visuals to help both you and your audience stay on track. A brief agenda slide lets the audience know you have a plan in mind. Give them a sense of the big chunks of information you’re going to cover so they trust you with their time and believe you know what you’re talking about. Deliver the agenda quickly and resist the temptation to elaborate on it. That’s what the rest of your presentation is for. Delivering a slide like the one below should take no more than thirty seconds.

Here is a sample agenda slide: A Sample Outline Slide from a Presentation. The slide has a heading and a numbered list. The heading reads Agenda: Strategic Planning Committee. The numbered list has three items. The first item reads Review Committee process. The second item reads Detail three key areas of focus. The second item then has three sub points: the first sub-point reads Revenue. The second sub-point reads product improvement. The third sub-point reads staffing after new product launch. The third item of the top-level list reads discuss timeline for implementation.Using images to convey your message can be really effective, especially if the images apply to your content, such as charts, graphs, and pictures of products or displays. Here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Simple is good. If you need to present only a few data points from a graph that has several, delete or gray out the ones you don’t need in order to help your audience focus on what’s important.
  • Pictures should edited and as sharp as possible. If you need to show a detail from a larger picture, edit down to the detail you need to show.
  • A descriptive slide title helps remind your audience of what they are learning.
  • Pictures are great for eliciting emotion if that’s what you want to do. A discussion of how good customer service changed the life of one of your customers is expected to get an emotional response, so use pictures of the customer, of their letter to management, or other images that will get at the emotion you want to generate. However, when you’re simply presenting a quarterly earnings report, emotion-generating pictures will be perceived as confusing or manipulative. This doesn’t mean you can’t have strong feelings about a strong quarter. It means that the feeling will come through in how you deliver your message rather than through pictures.
  • Your slides are for you as well as for your audience. This means that they should help you stay on track and remind you of what you want to say.
    • The words you put on a slide should be so brief that your audience may not even notice you’re reading them. Your slides can be a reminder of what you want to talk about in detail. As soon as you turn away from the slide and re-engage with your audience to elaborate on your point, they will be there with you—focused and learning.
    • Putting on your slides the few words you need to stay on track eliminates the need for notes. More than anything, notes get in the way of engaging with your audience and staying on track. Presenters who use notes tend to either get mesmerized by them (especially if they’re on a small screen like a laptop or tablet) or they try to toggle between their notes and their audience, which is at best an awkward kind of yo-yoing act that steals focus from the point you’re trying to make.
    • Remember, there is no award given for the longest presentation given with the fewest slides. It is loads better to make more slides with less on each of them. It helps you stay on track, and it gives your audience something new to focus on more frequently.

Remember the visual media standards when choosing your supporting images, charts, and video. Images should be very simple and clear, they should still be uniform, and they should support your company’s brand and be relevant to the points the speaker is trying to make. Most importantly, they should be effective and persuasive. There’s no better way to educate and persuade your audience than to be right in front of them.

If you are going to include images in a file to be sent electronically—a Word doc, a PowerPoint, or even an email—there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, image files can be so large that they slow down the speed at which your document downloads and/or opens. This can be really annoying for your recipient, especially if they’re working on a phone or tablet and using up their data allowance. Sometimes, these files won’t even arrive because the system can’t handle them. There is a lot of information online about how to reduce image file sizes. Also keep in mind that if your recipient is reading your report or message on a small screen like a tablet or phone, the actual photo dimensions matter.

Finally, since images can cause some technical trouble, include them in your documents only if they are necessary to support the points you are making. If they’re merely decorative, consider deleting them.

Practice Question