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Guest blog: Fast presentation fix #3: Say Dog, See Dog

Posted by Taylor Rogers on August 18, 2014

0717-Debra Jasper
By Debra Jasper

So you’ve followed the advice in this blog series and added a killer opening to your presentation, divided your content into chapters and reduced the text down to what’s most essential to share.

Now all that’s left is to throw in some photos to “pretty it up.”  Right?

Actually, finding the right visuals for your presentation can take a lot of time—well, at least it should take a lot of time. 

I’m not talking about the typical night-before-your-talk-frenzied-search for iStock photos of Abercrombie-attractive models in business suits. And I’m definitely not talking about the company logo or other visual clutter you’re tempted to put on every slide. 

I’m talking about finding the kind of visuals that drive home your key points in a vivid, powerful way—without competing with you for attention. 

Fast Fix #3, the third in this series of blog posts on the Five Fast Fixes for Powerful Presentations is actually an old broadcast journalism rule: Say dog, see dog.

In other words, when you’re talking about a dog, show pictures of a dog.

Sounds simple enough.

And if you are the leader of the Humane Society, you’re in luck. It’s pretty easy to put together a presentation filled with cuddly, big-eyed puppies that engage audiences and tug at heartstrings. 

But if instead of a dog, you’re talking about topics like anti-money laundering, risk mitigation or why doctors should update their profiles on LinkedIn, things get a lot trickier. 

So here are a few guidelines for creating presentations that show, not tell:

1. Use images as chapter heads.

The first step in illustrating your talk is rethinking how you start each section. Maybe you truly can't figure out how to add photos to every slide. Start by selecting high-quality images (used full-screen, if possible) to announce each new chapter. 

Are you including a section on financials? Introduce it with an image of money, a cash register or even a giant dollar sign. Are you talking about the rise of mobile phone usage? Start the section by showing a key statistic placed inside a photo of a high-tech phone.

2. Illustrate, don't just decorate. 

Your images should help tell your story, not distract from it. Yes, you can show beautiful photos of sunsets or a boats sailing across sparkling waters. But if you’re not talking about any of those things, they just confuse your audience.

So if you’re leading a workshop on how to write a great LinkedIn profile, for example, show a screen shot of a good profile and use giant arrows to illustrate where you want people to focus. Or if you’re reminding hospital administrators about the deadlines for implementing new ICD-10 codes, walk them through a Candy Land-type graphic that tells them what to do and when. 

Remember, people can process images in the blink of an eye—much faster than text. So get creative. Use big images. Show color. And don’t underestimate the power of simply adding one large number or a call-out shape. 

After all, if you are trying to convey to your board that profits are up, what’s more effective? A complex graphic with too many lines and too many numbers, or a single, giant arrow pointing up? 

3. Beware of the Pretty People

Now that the world has more cell phones than people, we’re all shooting a lot of photos and videos. And I do mean a lot of photos and videos.

This year, according to Yahoo, 880 billion photos are expected to be taken around that world—that’s 121 photos for each man, woman and child on earth.  And we’re not just capturing more images, we’re editing them and even making our own special effects.

As a result, we’ve gotten much more visually sophisticated.

So you can understand why your audience is a little dubious when they see a lot of photos of glossy, smiling people in business suits. No one at our company looks like that.  And we’re betting that they don’t at your firm either.

Yes, photos beat clip art any day. And it’s definitely worth buying photos from iStock or other sites that offer copyright-free images. But unless you work for a modeling business, don’t add pictures to your presentation of glossy people who look like they were lifted from the pages of a catalog. It doesn’t build trust.

One final note. Adding a lot of big images to your talk will mean you’ll also be adding a lot of slides. In one of our typical 50-minute keynote presentations, we use 250-300 slides (people are always shocked by that number).

Don’t panic. The talks don’t take any longer to deliver, but they do capture attention and keep the audience engaged. And that makes the frenzied search for the right kind of images well worth it.

Want to know more? See Fast Fix #1, which focused on how to think like a journalist when structuring your presentations. Fast Fix #2 talks about the importance of reducing the text and keeping it simple.

Next up: Fast Fix #4: Templates are evil. 

Debra Jasper, Ph.D., is an international keynote speaker and co-founder of Mindset Digital, an online training company that offers certifications in LinkedIn, Twitter, mobile marketing and other digital media—and also transforms old-school corporate training into highly visual, engaging courses you can take on your phone. Learn more at MindsetDigital.com

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