Years ago I saw a presenter who had full command of the room. The audience was engaged, the presenter had my full attention, and I respected him. Everything was great, until he distributed the first handout. This document and his other presentation materials were so dated that I started questioning whether his expertise was as old and dusty as his materials. I started to doubt him, and for the rest of the workshop I struggled to listen to him.

As you think about visuals (which can be photographs, illustrations, flowcharts, tables, infographics, or other graphics or images), it’s important to keep your presentation’s key message front and center so that you choose visuals that support and drive home that key message.

Buy how do you decide which ideas, concepts, or points on a presentation slide to represent visually? You do what storybook illustrators do. Many children’s stories include words and pictures, but they don’t have pictures of every word on the page. Instead, the pictures illustrate the most poignant part of the storyline on the page.

Here are three suggestions for selecting content to represent visually on a slide.

Identify the Idea Most Relevant to the Core Message

Look at the information on the slide. Which bullet point, concept, or idea is most relevant to the big idea of your presentation? For example, I once designed a presentation on successful webinars for meeting planners. The key message for the presentation was “doing successful webinars requires three types of planning: planning the technology, planning the experience, and planning the presentation.”

When I got to the slides for “planning the experience” (the experience that attendees and presenters had during the webinar), I shared four key ingredients for planning an optimal webinar experience. Of those four ingredients, the one most closely related to the key message was “use a webinar producer.” So on that slide I had a photograph of an airplane pilot and his co-pilot. The other three ingredients were important, but overall, the producer was the one most relevant to the presentation’s message.

Identify the Most Complex Idea

Look at the presentation from your audience’s perspective. Which idea or concept is going to be hardest for them to grasp? Visualize that idea or concept using an analogy or other visual technique to help the audience make sense of the concept.

I used to design training for a learning management system. One of the features that clients had a really hard time grasping was a versatile, multipurpose feature called “categories.” Categories were a complex concept in this situation because they were available in many different areas of the system. To help the audience grasp the concept of categories, we used an image of a manila folder because it is also a versatile, multipurpose tool that can be used to organize a variety of items.

Identify the Most Evocative Point

Look at the slide and identify the idea, concept, or message that is most likely to elicit an emotional response from the audience. Emotions are motivational—they move us to change. For example, I once worked with a nonprofit organization to redesign the presentation they used for their fundraising campaign. The organization provided essential services for local children in need. The slide they used to share statistics about the children they served had lots of words and a tiny photo of a little girl with a sad expression on her face. We redesigned the slide by making the photograph full-screen with very few words. Why? Because the photograph of the unhappy little girl tugged at the audience’s hearts and elicited an emotional reaction. The audience saw a sad and vulnerable little girl, which made them feel compassion and want to help her.

Want to Learn More?

If you are a talent development professional looking to spice up your training delivery techniques, an instructional designer looking for intriguing flavors to add zest to programs, or simply have an appetite for learning about the newest trends in training delivery, join me at the Core 4 Conference in September for the session: The Latest Dish on Delivery From 5 Training Master Chefs.

Editor’s Note: This article is excerpted from the TD at Work,5 Questions for Great Presentation Visuals.”

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