Presentation Images: The Right's and Wrong's

July 29, 2011 | m62 visualcommunications
Presentation Images: The Right's and Wrong's

This post originally appeared on the blog of our great partner m62 visualcommunications. Here is it's initial form.

Most presenters know by now that presentations should be visual, and not text-based. The most obvious way to make your presentations more engaging to your audience is to include more pictures on your slides. Yet presenters need to be careful that in making their slides more interesting, they aren’t actually making it more difficult for their audiences to absorb their message. Images in presentations can distract as well as engage. So what basic guidelines should a presenter follow when selecting images to include in his presentation?

Don’t include an image without purpose

As always, it’s all about relevancy. The image should serve a purpose: to help demonstrate the point at hand, and should absolutely fit in with the message and purpose of the slide, and any visible text.

Avoid Large Faces

This is a mistake that many seasoned presenters make time and time again. They believe that including large close-ups of human faces engages the audience, and can be powerful and emotive. This is certainly the case; the human brain is programmed to pay attention to the faces of others, and so audience members will be drawn into the photograph. And herein lies the problem: analysing the face is so absorbing and places such a high demand on cognitive load that it takes their attention away from whatever the presenter is saying. Relate some important information to your audience while they are studying such a picture and they will really struggle to record it. You want people to think about your content; not the image on your slides.

Avoid Large Files

If you add a print resolution picture to your slide and then shrink this image down, PowerPoint will still save the image in the resolution you put it in, resulting in a huge PowerPoint file. This can cause you no end of problems when it comes to moving the file, or even viewing it correctly. Resize your pictures before you insert them into PowerPoint, to ensure that you keep your file at a manageable size.

Think Carefully About Labelling

Research suggests that not labelling an image on your slide creates dissonance in your audience, who automatically become engaged as they listen to discover what the image is representing. This works well if there is one image on the slide at the time. However, if more than one unlabelled image is included, the audience can get confused, which is not an effect the presenter should be aiming for. Make the most of this dissonance by including unlabelled images one at a time, and labelling those that appear alongside others.

Create a Visual Lexicon

If you are delivering more than one presentation, or even just selecting visuals for the same presentation, you should really try to create a visual lexicon with the images chosen. For example, if you use a photograph of a male nurse to represent male nursing, make sure that you use that same image to represent male nursing throughout your presentation, or any other presentation you show to your audience. This is particularly useful in conferences – if all presentations in the conference use the same set of images to represent concepts, the audience will find the information easier to absorb, and the conference will look really slick and professional.

What is important to remember is that the same picture should not be used to describe a different concept. For example, a presentation should not use a picture of a doctor to represent a doctor on one slide, and then use the same picture later to represent a consultant. The audience will have become accustomed to that image meaning one thing, and suddenly making it become something else will confuse them.

Keep with the Tone

If you’re preparing a business presentation for an important client, a presentation containing silly images – or worse, ClipArt – would completely lower the tone, and could make you look unprofessional. In the same vein, a presentation designed to be motivating and inspiring would not have the same effect if the images chosen were dark and sombre. Think about the tone of your presentation. Consider your audience and what they would expect, and tie your choice of visuals in with the message of your presentation.

So what should you use?

Choose an image that clearly illustrates the concept without requiring the audience to think about it too much. Icons work well, as do simple images that are not likely to take up too much of the audience’s attention. For example, if you required an image of a car, you would be better off selecting something common and unobtrusive, rather than a bright yellow Ferrari. If you need a large image of a person, or several images of people, consider using silhouettes rather than photographs. This will get across your point simply, without requiring too much attention from your audience.

Fundamentally, the presenter should remember the one rule of any presentation design: that it should be there to help the audience engage with your content, and not distract them from your message. Following this rule will ensure that your presentations are engaging, and that your message remains memorable.

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