September 9, 2008

When visuals become distractions

Read this excellent analysis by Garr Reynolds of the visuals behind John McCain during his acceptance speech.

"MSNBC reported that when asked about the middle school image, McCain's campaign replied that 'it's simply a generic photo, like others used and it had no specific meaning.' But here's the rub: images always have meaning, though it may be different from what you intended. The term 'generic photo' is just one step away from 'clip art,' both of which should be avoided by serious presenters."

You may choose visuals that seem innocuous -- but that in itself is a problem. If your visuals don't support your words, the audience becomes confused and distracted.

Think of visuals as a form of nonverbal communication. If you're delivering bad news with a big smile on your face, your verbal and nonverbal communication don't match. When verbal and nonverbal communication don't match, you come across as insincere, insecure, or just plain nuts. You lose your connection with the listener as they struggle to make sense of what you're communicating.

People will tend to trust your nonverbal communication over your verbal communication, which is why, when you're having a bad day but you tell people "I'm fine," they don't believe you!

In the same way, your visuals have to match your content, or you risk your audience misunderstanding or misinterpreting you. Choose your visuals carefully. Make sure they fit with your message. Try to avoid "generic" whenever you can. Visuals are a powerful piece of your message -- use them wisely!

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2 comments. Please add yours! :

Unknown said...

A beautiful reality, which many of us dont adhere to, probably because of lack of experience and knowledge! How about the text on slides, what would you suggest as the "ideal piece of text on any given slide."

Something on that please?

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thank you for your comment, and your question, Raj. I follow Cliff Atkinson's approach, from "Beyond Bullet Points." He recommends one sentence (not just a word or a phrase), no more than two lines of text, at the top of his slides, and a full-slide image.

Here are examples of a few of my slide shows:

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