Lessons from 5,000 years of visuals

We can learn valuable lessons by studying how humans communicated 5,000 years ago.  At that time, formal written language was not well established, so how did people communicate?  They used pictures and stories.  They drew a picture on a cave wall and told the story of what was depicted, whether it was hunting, family relationships or other important ideas.

Some people might refer to cave drawings as primitive.  I am not sure I agree.  I think what people even back then realized, is that visuals are powerful communication vehicles.  So they drew with detail and used vivid colors.  They did it so well that the drawings still exist today.

Once the drawing was complete, they told the story of the event they depicted.  The story referred to the drawing, but added details and context that the drawing could not.  The audience listened to the story and looked at the drawing when it was important to do so.  The speaker communicated important lessons that the audience understood.

Is this how you use visuals?  Are they well drawn, clear and will they stand the test of time?  Do your explanations add color and context to the visual?  Is the visual secondary to the point you are making or do you hide behind the visual as if it was more important?

Difficult questions to answer honestly.  But ones that force us to consider the role we assign to visuals in our presentation.  If you are stuck in the mode of using only text based bullet point slides, I suggest you look back on 5,000 years of history and see the importance of visuals.  You don’t need to be a great artist to use visuals.  Simple diagrams, graphs or photos can be powerful additions to help the audience understand your message.

By Dave Paradi

Dave Paradi has over twenty-two years of experience delivering customized training workshops to help business professionals improve their presentations. He has written ten books and over 600 articles on the topic of effective presentations and his ideas have appeared in publications around the world. His focus is on helping corporate professionals visually communicate the messages in their data so they don't overwhelm and confuse executives. Dave is one of fewer than ten people in North America recognized by Microsoft with the Most Valuable Professional Award for his contributions to the Excel, PowerPoint, and Teams communities. His articles and videos on virtual presenting have been viewed over 3.5 million times and liked over 14,000 times on YouTube.