Presentation Tip: Create presentation visuals based on lessons from grade school

This is the last week of school for our kids and many kids in North America are finishing or have just completed their school year. Some of the fundamental concepts we learn in grade school stay with us forever. As presenters, we can tap in to this shared knowledge base when designing visuals that are easy for our audience to understand. In this article I want to share some of these grade school lessons and how we can apply them to creating presentation visuals.

One of the activities that we all enjoyed in our earliest grades in school was playing with blocks. We would stack them on top of each other to see who could build the tallest stack. We learned that a taller stack was better than a smaller stack. We can take this experience in to our presentation by creating a column graph to compare measured values. Audiences inherently understand that a taller column represents a larger, and presumably better, value.

Many of us also have the experience of fighting with a sibling or classmate over who gets the larger piece of pizza or pie. Usually our parents would have to come up with a creative way to solve the argument (and those of us who are parents now still have to do the same!) What did we learn? That a bigger piece of pie is a good thing! Our audience instantly understands this when we use a pie chart to show how different elements make up the whole. They see bigger or smaller pie wedges and know how to compare them because of their experience as a child.

From early grades on, we were asked to draw a picture to go along with a story or assignment that we were working on. It might be a simple drawing in crayon in earlier grades, and something more elaborate as we progressed in school. We learned that adding a picture to our story made it come to life for the reader. Before we could read, we enjoyed picture books, so adding pictures to a story seemed natural. As presenters, we need to use pictures to help tell our stories. Think back to the days of picture books: use less text and more pictures to tell your story. Your audience will appreciate it.

When we were in kindergarten, one of the key concepts we learned was the calendar. We had to learn how to tell the days of the month, days of the week and how they related to each other. Once we learned those concepts, we could easily relate to when tests were scheduled, when assignments were due, and, most importantly, when school was done for the summer! Why not show date-based information as a calendar? We all understand it instantly because it is familiar to us. Instead of a simple list of dates, draw a table that represents the timeframe involved and show where the dates are on the calendar. This is easier for the audience to understand and it is what they see every day on their computer and smartphone.

I have many more grade school experiences that lead to presentation visuals in my upcoming book that will be out this fall. I think that as presenters we can sometimes get too carried away with making fancy graphics. In many cases, if we go back to our experiences as children, we can find simple ways to show our points. These simple ways communicate more clearly to our audience because they tap in to the deep archive of experience that we all share from growing up. Look for simple ways to visually show your points in your next presentation.