The most important secret to impactful business presentations

The most important secret to creating impactful business presentations is to make them visual.  This is the golden rule for all presentations, but making the content visual is even more important if you are doing a presentation for an international client.  Making presentations mostly visual is a pretty revolutionary idea.  What I am suggesting is to get rid of most of the words in your presentation.  You may be wondering “If I get rid of most of the words in my presentation, how do I go about getting my message across”?  The answer is simple: as often as possible, you replace the words with images. Not just any images, but images that are very carefully chosen to do one job.

The research behind creating impactful business presentations

What each presenter is striving for in every presentation is to have the audience comprehend the message she is trying to communicate.  Research informs us that as human beings, we only truly comprehend something when we can picture it in our minds.  There is no comprehension unless we can picture the concept being presented. For example, if I asked you to retell the following sentence to me: “The wizard with the long white robe walked across the polished black marble floor of the palace, and looked down at the rusty wire cage that held a pure white rabbit with a blue letter “s” on it’s back”.  As you retell that story, what you are doing in reality is just narrating the picture that is in your head.  Do you see the wizard in your imagination?  Can you see the blue “s” on the rabbits back?   That picture is now in your head. That is comprehension.

Have you ever seen the kind of slide presentations similar to what I usually see?  Presentations where each slide is jammed with paragraphs of text, and the presenter reads the text off of the screen, usually at the same time as the audience is reading along on the handout of the same slide?   If you want your audience to comprehend your message, doing a presentation that way guarantees that you are making the audience work very hard to comprehend and remember your message.  When we are attempting to comprehend written information, there is a process that happens.  I call this process “Translation to Storage”.  If the only way we can comprehend something is to have a picture in our heads, then there is an extra step for our audience. If we just show them a slide with text, essentially black letters on a white background, the audience has to read those words and then translate them to a picture, so that the message is comprehended and moved into long-term memory.

I don’t know about you, but when I am watching a presentation, I don’t want to work that hard.  The presenter (that’s YOU!) needs to flatten the road, and make it as easy as possible for the message to get into the brains of the audience.  You do this by cutting out one of the steps in the process of seeing the information to comprehending. Don’t force your audience to translate your endless lines of text into a picture so that they can comprehend the information.  Cut out the middle step and just show them a picture on the slide that captures the essence of what you are trying convey. That may sound complicated, but it’s accomplished in three easy steps.

How do I choose the right image?

To recap, we want to get rid of most of the words in your presentations, and begin to replace them with images that will help the audience comprehend the essence of your message. You can choose the image for a slide in three easy steps.

Step one: Read the information

I read the information on my slide.  If the phrase on the bullet point of my presentation is something long and dense with information, such as “Another reason we need a new website for the USA company is because the website is difficult for the customer to navigate.  The links often do not go anywhere and the navigation is unclear to get to products, ordering, company news, the blog pages or the online store”, I need to get most of those words off of there, and go to Step Two.

Step Two: Distill the essence of the information

Next, I look at that long, complicated sentence with numerous parts, and I try to distill the essence of what I was trying to say.  At first this may feel clumsy, but it gets easier with practice An unintended benefit of you working to perfect the skill of choosing pictures that capture the essence of your information, is that your presentations will be much more concise and on point. This is due to the fact that you have had to think through and clarify your message at every step along the way.  For the sentence in this example, the main message might be  “The website is difficult to navigate”.

Step Three: Choose an image that captures the essence of the information

lastly, choose an image that captures the essence of your message. It might take some time at first, but this step is my favorite, because there is a great deal of thinking and creativity that must go into this step.  For this example, I would do a search for images about “navigation”, or “difficult to navigate”. For fun, I might search for images with the phrases “Hard to read map’ or “Can’t follow directions”.  You may find images of a confused person looking at a map, or some other image.

That’s it.  Once you have an image chosen, you put the image on the slide, perhaps with the words “Where do I go next?”  It is totally acceptable to use words on a slide, but my rule of thumb is to try to limit the number of words on each slide to no more than ten.  During your presentation, since you won’t be reading line after line of text, you will be able to explain the concept that the image is representing in natural, conversational language that is much more pleasing to the audience.

If you follow this most important secret to impactful business presentations, and get rid of most of your words on your next presentation  and replace those words with images, you will find your presentations more impactful, memorable, and also more easily presented in a natural way.




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