Don’t be lazy with your visuals: get creative and get them right!


Creative visuals are powerful and can stimulate feelings, memories and past learning. By “visuals” I mean any images you can use in a presentation, such as photos, icons, graphs or illustrations. These highly valuable communication tools can be very effective…but only if they fit with the core message!

In my last blog post I talked about the importance of engaging the visual channel. Here I’d like focus on the importance of using visuals which actively support your message. It’s not enough to use striking images: they have to communicate the right message to your audience.

If you use an irrelevant or inappropriate visual, this will only distract and confuse – doing more harm than good. Rather than adding depth and clarity, the wrong visual could send your audience wandering off on a completely unrelated trains of thought. A great example of this is a slide we had recently with the statement “use these services as a vehicle for change” alongside a racing car.

This slide is about young offenders and how their relationship with a probation officer can be a “vehicle for change”. You don’t need to be a communications expert to know that the image of a “vehicle” doesn’t do anything to clarify or reinforce the actual message though.

In feedback, audience members noted that this visual was confusing and “off message”. One woman even admitted that the visual of the sports car led her to think about Formula 1 car racing and an ex-boyfriend who was an F1 enthusiast…not exactly what the presenter had in mind.

presentation blog illustration - Don’t be lazy.psd

The game “Pictionary” is all about creating this link between a concept and a visual image. You won’t win at Pictionary unless your visuals speak your message clearly: a beautifully drawn picture which no-one understands isn’t going to score you any points! To win at Pictionary, you have to think creatively and draw something which your team mates will immediately understand, and which leads them to say the exact word or expression you have in your mind.

The type of creative thinking that Pictionary requires is exactly what you need in order to design visually powerful presentations. So get out the egg-timer and pencils if necessary, and leave the sleek but meaningless visuals behind.

Always ask yourself “will this visual help my audience to understand?” Unless the answer is a resounding “Yes!” you need to find an alternative. Don’t be lazy with your creative visuals: get inspired and get them right!