Ignore the advice to only use images; Issue #343 August 4, 2015

A couple of articles I read in the last two weeks have advocated removing data and text from slides in favor of pictures. The author says that research shows that pictures are more effective at communicating your message, so just use pictures. This advice is consistent with other articles I have seen in the past that suggest that no presentation should have any text in it, they should all be full screen images. Excuse my language, but what a load of crap.

These commentators who only work with leaders who give inspirational, rally the troops messages spout this advice and ignore the 95+% of presentations given in corporate settings every day that have nothing to do with firing people up.

Imagine a CFO giving a monthly report to the Board of Directors and not presenting any financial figures. Every slide is a full screen image. Instead of the breakdown of revenue along product lines, we would have an image of three elk walking up a hill and one elk walking down the hill. Clearly the message is that three product lines are improving and one is declining. Think the Board will be able to make strategic decisions from the elk photo?

Imagine a Director of Customer Service speaking to call center managers explaining how to resolve issues in order to increase customer satisfaction scores. Instead of an analysis of initiatives that worked and didn’t work, we have a picture of happy people running in a sunny meadow with a rainbow in the background. When we do the right things, our customers are so happy they run outside filled with joy. How will the managers take concrete plans back to their front-line staff based on that photo?

This advice would require presenters to spend most of their time finding, selecting, and licensing images. The VP’s and senior executives I speak to don’t want their staff becoming designers. These executives need their marketing, financial, operational, and technical professionals doing the serious work of analysis and making decisions that drive a bottom line result.

What this misguided advice to only use pictures fails to recognize is that presentations are rarely about firing up the crowd. Most of the time we are asking others to make a decision, understand key issues that need to be addressed, or report insights from analysis. Those goals require data and text. Pictures alone won’t cut it.

Should we replace the spreadsheets and walls of text that are found on too many slides with better visuals? Of course. But those visuals should not only be pictures. They should be graphs, diagrams, organized text, and yes, sometimes, images. Advice to ignore these effective visuals is, in my opinion, poor advice.

This “one size fits all” advice to only use pictures in presentations is, like most blanket advice, not worth considering. To expect that every presentation will be effective using only one approach to visuals is misguided.

Presenters should consider the messages they need to deliver in order to move the audience from where they are to where the presenter wants the audience to be at the end of the presentation. Then presenters should select the best visual for each message. That’s why my latest book, Select Effective Visuals, has 66 different visuals business presenters should consider, and only three of them are based primarily on images.

Next time you see one of these articles suggesting you only use photos in your presentation, just skip over it, the advice isn’t worth wasting your time on.