What are good visuals in your presentation

VAK circle model

You might have heard of the VAK model – the idea that people are either Visual Learners, Aural Learners or Kinesthetic Learners. It’s largely tosh and what you should be doing is matching the medium (V, A or K) to the message, of course. I rant about it here when I suggest you don’t need to worry about VAK in your presentations.)

What brought this to my mind (again) is a visit I made with my family to the exhibition in the Liverpool World Museum. The Astronomy photographer of the Years images were touring there and it was too good an opportunity to miss.

Astonishing visual images – and almost as fascinating were the short explanations of how the photographer came to be interested in photography or how they took the picture.

What did I notice that’s useful to presenters?

But what struck me, when I sat down to chat, was how people approached the images.

People looking at images in the Liverpool World Museum

Here’s what I noticed:

  • people always looked at the images first – the images were bigger than the text so you might not be suprised at that but there was no reason people couldn’t choose to look at the text first if they wanted to. The point is that no one made that choice.
  • people then sometimes looked at the story – but they only did this if they’d expressed delight, curiosity or fascination at the picture

In other words, people only wanted the data if (and only if) they had already made an emotional connection with the photograph

Now obviously the only thing they can connect with in an exhibition like this is a picture, so we can’t infer this means your presentation has to have pictures. But what we can be sure of is that people want/need an emotional reason to be interested before they’re receptive to the data.

So presentations should be pictures then?

Not necessarily!

As I said above, it’s about the emotional connection, not the medium that you use to make that connection. It could be a picture, sure, but it could be a story you tell in your presentation. It could be a case study that speaks the audience on a personal level… or even a 3D prop!

Key take away… before you give anyone any information you need to give them a good, emotional (and ideally personal) reason for relating to it.

Images aren’t to make your presentation pretty

I hate to say this, but what this means is that making your presentations look good isn’t the right thing to do (automatically!).

At this point, I should add that I’m talking about moving your presentations from “good” to “great”. Images are generally a good thing in most presentations, even if they’re, well… read on…

do all presenters run on coffee

What’s brought this to mind is a friend of mine who I sat with recently as he put his slides together for a (free) presentation he was making. We were working in a cafe. He asked another friend who was with us “What image can I use to represent XXX?” so the three of us discussed options. I wasn’t really on my game for personal reasons (and it was just a chat in a cafe with friends!) so I didn’t properly process that question – but in retrospect it’s not quite the right question for your presentation.

Why? Because the intention behind it was to make a good looking presentation. That’s great as far as it goes and presentation should be visually attractive, no doubt! But it doesn’t quite do all it should. Instead of asking how to make the presentation attractive, the real question should have been “What can I do to make people emotionally relate to what I’m about to tell them?”

It’s possible that we might have ended up with the same image, of course, but by no means is that a certainty! We might have ended up with no image at all – a black slide for a simple story… or a quote… or a picture of something totally different but which has a similar emotional effect.

As it was, we ended up, inevitably, with a literal representation of the thing in question. We got a pretty, visually attractive slide but only scoring 5/10 for impact…

… and almost nothing for being memorable!

Pro-tip: when you’re thinking about how to illustrate a point, try asking yourself what you’d show if you couldn’t show the thing you were talking about on pain of death. It gets you thinking differently!

Not convinced this applies to your presentation?

If you want an example of all of this, take a look at the very first image in this blog post – I’ve used an image of the VAK model. That’s the obvious thing to do, because that’s what the paragraph was about but what does it actually add to this blog, other than breaking up the text a bit?

Smiley face

Breaking up the text is a good thing by the way, which is why I’ve done it, but it’s the image is hardly pushing the boundaries of impact and effectiveness!

So what image might I have used instead? Honestly I have no idea but here are a few ideas/thoughts/questions I can ask myself to get a bit closer to perfect:

  • if I wasn’t allowed to show VAK literally what would I do?
  • what’s the point of the image? There are probably other ways to do the same thing
  • what’s VAK supposed to do? Can I illustrate what VAK does rather than VAK itself?
  • could I show the direct opposite of any of these things to add a bit of humour?
  • if I just throw the word VAK into a web browser do I get any alternatives?

See what I’m doing? Im looking for things beyond the literal, to make an emotional engagement. An answer to the third question might be a textbook for example, or a confused student. A response to the fourth point might be a dancer trying to read as they span on the spot.

Toothbrush heads

I’ve no idea how to use it, but the answer to the last question brings up someone who makes the heads for electric toothbrushes! And before you ask, I’m going to show that picture here, just because it’s soooooo bizarre!

Smiley face

Rush to Amazon and buy them now!

Oh, and if you want to see me ranting what I’ve just written up here…

One Comment

  1. Laura

    I’m 100% a visual person so this has really resonated.
    I love what you say about pointless pictures.

    I’ve often been completely distracted by a random stock image. To the level where I would just tune put and begin wondering why the speaker selected that image to decorate the slide.

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