It is Monday morning — the day of the big business presentation. You arrive at the venue in advance, giving yourself enough time to set up. Mic test one two three. Your laptop is mirrored onto the projector. Soon enough, chatter starts to fill up the halls and the sound of clacking heels begin to approach your direction. Nerves kick in as the conference room begin to fill up. But overall, you are calm and collected. After all, you have worked hard on this — from content research down to the business presentation design. You are ready.
The lights are dimmed. Your business presentation begins.
The first fifteen minutes fly by. The audience responds well to your story about your first job delivering newspapers. They seem to be getting the points you are trying to get across. The hour goes by faster than you expected. The next thing you know, the lights are on and you are shaking hands with half the audience as the other half leaves the conference room. They seem to be buzzing with excitement. You are over the moon.
A week after your presentation: silence. No calls. No emails. No sign ups. Didn’t they like the story of your bustling career in newspaper delivery? Did they not get your message?
The truth is, you cannot judge the success of a presentation by the reaction of your audience on the spot. You judge the success of a presentation by how much your audience takes away from it. Instead of asking yourself if they liked your story, ask yourself if they will remember the story. A week from your business presentation, how much will your audience remember?
Visuals and storytelling
In the wise words of the late Steve Jobs, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” Your business presentation design does not only serve the purpose of making things aesthetically pleasing. It shapes what your audience understands, learns and remembers.
A study made by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business shows that combining verbal with visual messages increased retention rate by nearly 400%. By now, it is no question that adding visual elements to presentations is pivotal to your audience’s comprehension and retention. After all, we human beings have been drawing on caves long before we were drawing on chalkboards or projecting PowerPoint presentation slides. We are wired to communicate, to learn, and to remember visually.
The two components of good business presentation design are visuals and storytelling — and a memorable presentation incorporates a harmonious marriage of those two components.
Your business presentation design needs to effectively use imagery to tell a story that your audience remembers
According to Lindy Ryan’s “The Visual Imperative: Creating a Visual Culture of Data Discovery”, cognitive psychologists describe how, in its attempt to understand and remember, the human mind puts bits and pieces of experiences and information into a story. And as it assembles the story, it automatically conjures visual cues associated with it. In other words, stories not only pivotal to how we human beings learn, but also how we remember. The question then becomes: what makes a compelling good story?
Screenwriting instructor Rober McKee argues that ‘a good story fulfills a profound human need to grasp the patterns of living—not merely as an intellectual exercise, but within a very personal, emotional experience.’ A good story turns a one-sided presentation into a living conversation. It motivates people by combining ideas with emotion.
Visuals turn data into a story
Visuals are useful in analogical reasoning by making abstract information more concrete and imaginable. Pictures, graphs and diagrams allow people to grasp the magnitude of an issue or fully grasp trends and changes. Using visuals reduces the time required to present and comprehend a concept as well as increases audience retention.
Your business presentation design needs to answer the question: what is the story your data is trying to tell and what is the best way to tell it? Here are a few ways you can tell a story using your data:
Pie charts: Perfect for displaying part-to-whole relationship.
Bar graphs: Perfect for comparison
Line graphs: Perfect for time-series relationships of continuous data.
A picture paints a thousand words—and science agrees
Not to be a cliché, but pictures are indeed powerful. Allan Paivio’s dual-coded theory states that pictures have an advantage over word stimuli because they are said to be dually encoded—in that they generate a verbal and image code whereas words only generate a verbal code. He said that “While words that can be imagined may be, pictures that can be translated will be, automatically.”
More often than not, the audience remembers presentation visuals long after other parts of the speech. The memory of a visual image can also be a meaningful representation. When we remember a chess board for example, not only will we remember the positions of its pieces, but also the significans of the pieces in a chess game. There is a reason why the most associated image to the word poverty is that of a malnourished kid — it elicits emotion and makes people uncomfortable.
The sentence you are just a speck in the world is much more impactful when illustrated.
Visuals help the audience bridge the gap between concrete experiences and symbolic representations of real-world phenomena. Take a look at the illustration above. It is one thing to say “You are but a tiny part of a bigger whole” and another thing to show it. Instead of just telling your audience a fact, you are making them realize its magnitude.