There’s a widely accepted piece of advice for communicating a story to an audience: “Show, don’t tell.” Writers have undoubtedly heard this instruction plenty of times as they go through rounds of edits, striving to connect with readers and bring the story on the page alive.
But presenters would be wise to remember this principle, too. Why? Because it speaks to what resonates with people, whether they’re reading a book or observing a presentation. The fact of the matter is audience members will forget much of the information they’re told—but they’ll retain more of the content they’ve seen.
There are a few reasons. A majority of people are visual learners, to start. People also process information faster in visual formats than text alone. Visually formatted information grabs attention and holds it, which contributes to increased engagement and retention.
When you’re putting together your next presentation, consider incorporating some or all of these five types of visual content.
Images & Video
Remember the feeling of excitement—or at least relief—that’d break out amongst your classmates when your teacher turned on the TV or pulled up a video clip? You can bring this same dose of energy to your presentation with well-placed video to break up slides of text.
Similarly, incorporating relevant images throughout your deck of slides gives viewers something upon which to focus or re-focus. Photographs are great tools for quickly illustrating what would take many words to explain, plus they add that little extra “oomph.”
As HubSpot cites, people remember about 10 percent of information they hear three days later, but 65 percent of the information when it’s paired with a relevant image.
Presenters today face the challenge of figuring out how to genuinely engage audience members so they’ll pay attention and retain what they’ve learned. Human attention spans are finite. There’s a good chance you’ll “lose” your viewers unless you give them a reason to tune in.
An audience response system like Poll Everywhere allows audience members to participate in creating visual content live: word clouds, multiple-choice quizzes, interactive polls, etc. People tend to feel more invested in outcomes when they contribute, and watching charts update in real time gives people a concrete reason to care about the results. Plus, it offers a welcome change of pace.
There’s a reason people avoid embedding spreadsheets into presentations. Simply put, while useful, they’re dense and boring. A better strategy is turning data into colorful data visualizations—whichever graph, chart, map or model best fits the data you’re trying to convey. Think about how quickly a pie chart breaks down percentages compared to a table or, worse, a verbal explanation.
Infographics utilize visual storytelling to convey information in a meaningful way. They give people important takeaways in a pleasing format, including data visualizations and digestible text. They use colors, fonts and shapes to show emphasis.
Of course, in a presentation, your infographic must be readable by all, so you’ll want to include fewer points than if you were sending it out by email.
Optimize the text you do include in your presentation to maximize visual interest and emphasis. Font size, color and arrangement all affect audience interpretation. Use the hierarchy of text sizes to help guide viewers’ eyes from overarching ideas to more specific details. Avoid overpacking your slides; instead, let fewer lines of text communicate only the most important points. A pop of color will signal to your audience something is particularly noteworthy.
Your next presentation could benefit from some visual interest. Perhaps one of these five types of content will help liven it up.