You’ve probably heard that “a picture speaks a thousand words.” This means that rather than spend time trying to describe something, you can communicate more quickly and efficiently with an image. This instant communication occurs whether you want it to or not, so choosing the right images for your presentations is critical!
Don’t use pictures just because they’re cool
I worked with a client who had a photo of himself that he wanted to use in a presentation. It was a pretty cool photo, because through a combination of a good photo shoot location and some Photoshop work he had created an interesting composition. He believed that the photo illustrated one of the main messages in his presentation. The trouble is, it really didn’t.
The quality of the photo wasn’t the problem; it was actually quite well done. The problem was that the photo didn’t project the message he thought it did. It seemed like he’d spent so much time putting it together that he wanted to use it and show it off. I can totally understand that, having spent many, many hours compositing photos myself. But to create effective presentations, you sometimes have to let go of what you love in favor of what’s actually going to work.
Other people I’ve worked with have had a favorite piece of clip art or a beloved image they want to include in their presentations. I had the same advice for all of them: Ask yourself if this image is the best way to communicate your message. In every circumstance, the answer was “no.”
Images in your presentations shouldn’t just be eye candy, they should be there for a purpose. Every image choice you make will communicate some kind of message to your audience. Make sure it’s the right one.
Watch for multiple meanings
To convey the idea of “collaboration,” a client had used a photo of a herd of deer looking in the same direction (see above). His reasoning was that all of the deer were looking in the same direction, so that meant that they were working together as a team. Other people, including me, thought differently. I had two interpretations:
- “Herd mentality,” or not thinking independently.
- “Deer in the headlights.” To me, these deer look like they just spotted a predator and are about to bolt.
Be sure to check images you’re unsure of with your colleagues before unleashing them to the world!
Clip art violations
Let me go on the record as saying there’s nothing inherently wrong with clip art. I like it and use it when the situation calls for it. The problem with clip art is when it’s used incorrectly. This can give your presentations an amateurish look that you might not be going for!
Things to avoid include mixing various clip art styles in the same presentation, using poorly-drawn clip art, using low-resolution clip art, and using clip art whose colors vary wildly from your regular color palette.
Keep using those images!
Using images in your presentation is a great way to communicate your ideas and to give your audience a visual break from slides with just text or graphs. As with your writing, it’s a great idea to ask someone to proofread (proofview?) your presentations before you go live. A second opinion on the graphics you’ve chosen can help ensure that the pictures you’ve chosen for your presentations speak the thousand words you intended.