Q&A: What can the ‘average’ person do about presentation graphics?

In a recent webinar Holly asked,

“You are offering great ideas, but I am not a professional media person. How can an average person use graphics like you do?”

Holly, the secret is no secret at all.  In fact, one of the more popular private sessions I do, “Design for Non-Designers” goes into, in much more depth, how the average person can tackle visuals.

We’re all visual creatures (barring a disability of some sort), with the majority of our brains committed to visual processing, so we’re used to ‘seeing’ things that represent ideas.

A few things to jumpstart your journey:

Foundational elements
Visual “language” has three parts:  words, images, and images.  It’s important to remember that “thinking visually” doesn’t have to mean a “picture.”  Even words/text/numbers can be shown in a visual (rather than textual) manner.

Characteristics of a good visual
When contemplating how to represent an idea visually, ask yourself three questions:

1.  Does the visual help the viewer more quickly grasp the idea? A good visual is one that assists with communication.  A poor one make the viewer work harder.

2.  Does the visual assist with memory? An idea that isn’t remembered is likely a missed opportunity.

3.  Does the visual provide context or meaning? Humans relate to story.  The greatest teachers in history were storytellers.  Facts are only useful in context, and a visual helps the viewer answer “What does this mean to me?”

Getting started
The key is to start practicing our own recognition skills, making conscious what you’ve already been doing unconsciously.  Then start thinking about how to apply those ideas.  In terms of creating better PowerPoint presentations, nothing will take the place of just doing it and improving over time.  It’s important to note, though, with an internet full of stock images that you can use for cheap or free, the primary barrier to success is effort, not access.  Too, it’s amazing what you can do with simple shapes and lines in PowerPoint, but whether images or shapes, the beginning question is always, “What am I trying to communicate?”

Reality check
Creating visual presentations takes time.  It’s one of the reasons I use istockphoto.com almost exclusively.  They’re mid-priced in terms of cost, but as a professional communicator I find that I more than make up for the money I spend in time saved, both in terms of finding new images with a decent search engine and by building lightboxes over time that I save stuff to (I often bump into images that I think would be useful but don’t apply to the presentation I’m working on).  If you have time, there are plenty of places to find free images.

The payoff
There are two big payoffs, both of which are hard to measure.  One, your message will be delivered/received more effectively.  Science proves it, even if you can’t tell your boss that you did an A/B test and what the ROI was.  Two, you’ll stand above the crowd.  Bad use of PowerPoint is so pervasive that even small improvements will set you apart.  And the good news is that you don’t need a Ph.D. in Photoshop to get there.

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