Paint Pictures with Words
Find out how to make speeches more memorable
The Power of Pictures
Have you ever heard a speech or presentation, and ten minutes after it’s finished, you can’t remember much about it?
Or worse, you’ve delivered a presentation and it’s obvious that the audience hasn’t really understood what you’ve been talking about, let alone remembered the key points.
Would you like to know how to add impact to your message?
Yes? Then get ready to paint some pictures with words.
In her article about persuasive writing, Henneke Duistermaat refers to a famous Rolls Royce advert that stated:
“At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.”
Wow! That’s a very quiet car. (Or it had a very noisy clock.)
You may not be in the market for a Rolls Royce but doesn’t it cause you to imagine driving along in one? It’s such an astonishing claim that you are likely to remember it.
Since that Roller was launched, all cars have got a lot quieter and the digital clocks in them are usually silent. But when you read the quote, it probably starts you thinking about your car and how noisy or quiet it is. And that is the point of using word pictures: they create images in your mind that are longer lasting than information delivered straight.
Now what about if a friend has a new car and is considering coming over to see you. They ask, “What’s the weather like your way?” You look out of the window and say, “It’s raining“. That may be true but it isn’t very detailed is it?
But what if you said:
“Beyond the open window, rain hisses like a nest of angry vipers.”
OK, that’s perhaps a bit overdramatic but you get the picture. It’s not just drizzling or raining lightly! Even though most of us have never seen a nest of vipers, we’re left in no doubt about the weather. In our minds we clearly see the rain hammering down.
Colour Your Speaking
When you speak, you can provide information in a way that reports the basic facts. But it isn’t very exciting is it? What if you added some colour? Colour that would make your speech more memorable. To do that you should aim to craft your words to help the audience create a picture in their minds.
The colourful weather report was a quote from one of Anna Nicholas’ books describing her life in Majorca. As a journalist and previous owner of a London based Public Relations company, she understands the need to make an impact.
Words and Images
Think about things that have happened to you in the past. Maybe it’s a memorable holiday. Can you visualise it?
Are you seeing a beach with the sun beating down, the waves gently lapping the sands and boats with colourful sails drifting across the bay?
Or if you holiday in the UK, perhaps you are sitting in a café, glumly watching the lashing rain, hissing viper-like, streaming down the windows. You are frustrated and wondering if the sun will ever appear.
Note the words ‘memorable’ and ‘visualise’. They go together naturally. If you want your speeches and presentations to be memorable, it’s essential to help the audience to visualise the key elements.
Scientific studies show that the brain encodes images much more effectively than mere words alone. Put another way, our brains are better image processors than word processors. So, in an ideal world, you’d use pictures instead of words to get your message across. That’s why PowerPoint presentation slides should use images rather than words. But even if you aren’t using visual aids, the power of imagery can be used.
In our post on making Persuasive Presentations we discussed the need to engage with the audience. Adding colour to a speech by using powerful word pictures will help to increase engagement. In his book It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be, Paul Arden, a former executive creative director at advertising agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, advises:
“Instead of giving people the benefit of your wit and wisdom (words), try painting them a picture. The more strikingly visual your presentation is, the more people will remember it. And more importantly, they will remember you.”
If it’s a business presentation, you’re unlikely to employ flowery language. But word pictures don’t have to feature hissing vipers. Everyday words can be used to describe something in a way that helps the listener to create an image in their mind. You want them to experience the words, not just hear them. You want to help them translate the words into a familiar situation, but a memorable one.
Let’s look at an example. Imagine you are a website designer and you are at an event giving a presentation to business owners. You’ve done your research and think one or two need to update their websites. What if you painted a picture in which you contrasted two imaginary shops, as a metaphor for revitalising their tired website?
Your presentation might go something like this:
Imagine a shop. It’s not on the High Street. It’s on a quiet side street, with few people passing by. The shop front is faded and tired looking. The window display is jumbled and dated. You’re not tempted to go in, are you?
If your online business is disappointing, could the problem be that your website is like that shop? Do you need a smarter shopfront and a more modern, brighter window display? And would it help if the shop was on the High Street? We could give you that smart shop on the High Street.
The simple story is easy to understand and visualise compared with a technical explanation of a website.
Of course, if your business is selling umbrellas, maybe hissing vipers could help you clinch a sale!
Got The Picture?
Images are more memorable than words alone. By using words to paint pictures you aid your communication with the audience. You gain a direct line to their brain that lets you imprint the key points of your message in their memory.
Overloading the audience with information, fact and figures will lose them. But if you illustrate the key points with word pictures, you can keep them engaged. Your message will be so much more compelling if you illustrate it with images. And it will make it much more likely that your listeners will remember the important aspects of your presentation.
Make sure you paint pictures in your next speech or presentation!
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