If you’ve given a presentation lately, you’ve probably spent some time digging through stock photography websites to dress up your words. Presentation Zen counsels that images should largely replace words due to the picture superiority effect, and increasingly in presentations these days, they do.
This makes sense in our current age of inattention and info-overload, where we’re often reminded that short-term memory holds only 7 chunks of information, and these fade from your brain in 20 seconds. If this is really the case, however, it’s worth questioning whether slides of orange slices and sunsets are as effective as we think at reinforcing our ideas. A few problems with the stock photo approach include:
Projecting an authentic voice is an essential component of social media success. People have turned away from advertisements and corporate messaging and toward personal perspectives, user reviews, and other signs of human life online. Stock photos don’t show the world through your eyes, and are hard to distinguish from ads.
Problem #2: They distract from your story
Decorative imagery can also, according to Graphics for Learning, “risk interfering with essential learning processes needed to promote learning” if it doesn’t inform, motivate, or build conceptual understanding of a topic. In other words, fruit metaphors and scenic backdrops may fall short of usefully supporting your ideas.
So what are the alternatives to the orange slice aesthetic if you’re not an artist or photographer?
1. Basic drawings
A number of recent books from the visual thinking movement such as Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist and Dan Roam’s Blah Blah Blah: What to do When Words Don’t Work provide encouragement and strategies for non-artists to begin creating meaningful (and simple) ideograms that reflect sophisticated concepts.
2. Cell-phone photography
Anyone can apply visual thinking skills to their presentations with these simple techniques, potentially improving audience connection and comprehension in the process.