Seeing Between the Lines

Is it possible to say something without saying anything? It is, if you can see between the visual lines.

Let’s say you’re a technology services company that wants to win a contract from a division of Sony. You have a standard PowerPoint presentation you’re planning to use at your next meeting with your prospective client, but you know that a standard PowerPoint is what all your competitors will present, too. All of these PowerPoints are sure to include the obligatory “About Us”, “Our Services”, and “Our Competitive Advantage” slides that are guaranteed yawners.

As I spoke with a similar company about what they wanted to accomplish at a meeting like this, they said they wanted to stand out from the PowerPoint pack and create an experience that Sony would remember. So we decided to make the presentation All About Sony, by spinning all the existing presentation content around 3 problems the Sony division was facing.

One problem the Sony division was facing was the fact that it was very difficult for marketing people to make rapid website updates. As it was, every marketing update had to be sent through the IT team, adding scheduling and workload burden to IT and pushing out the schedule for marketing. The natural solution was what the services company did every day — develop website updating systems that allowed people to make updates directly, without any need for IT to become involved.

So how could we communicate that idea in an elegant way? One approach would be to create a slide with the title “Our Experience”, and to provide a bulleted list of previous clients.

maintenanceAnother approach would be the simple juxtaposition of two images as in this example. The image on the left side of the slide is a group of people standing in front of a big bank of computers — representing complexity, labor-intensity, and difficulty. The image at right is a happy guy sitting at his laptop on a clean and clear table — representing independence, simplicity and ease. A simple Arrow shape with the word “maintenance” points from the left image to the right. Each image alone carries its own meanings, but if you paste two images like these side-by-side on a single slide, they mean volumes more than either one alone.

So how does this work in a presentation? In this case, when this slide comes up you show only the left image, and say something like, “We understand that right now when marketing wants to make an update to your website, it’s hard work, right?” Your audience might say “Yes, it really is. It takes 5 days to correct a misspelling!” Then you fade in the right image and say “And we understand you want life to be much simpler, right?” The audience might say, “Yes – it really doesn’t have to be as difficult as it is right now.” As the arrow peeks in from left to right, you say something like, “Well we specialize in projects just like yours. At another company it took 2 weeks to correct a misspelling, but when we finished our project with them the turnaround time was 2 minutes! Let me show you some examples…”

How is this approach different from a standard PowerPoint? It shows you know something about your audience’s problems and have the insight to do something about them. Using these two images as visual triggers serves to draw forth involvement from your audience, engaging them in dialogue and affirming that you are listening to their needs. And the two images side by side speak volumes between their lines – when you see a picture like this, it is really a snapshot that shows that you “get it”.

Who needs bullets, when a picture or two will do?

Tip: As you think through your next presentation, what is a problem your audience is facing? Go to Corbis or another image library and find an image that represents the “before” view of the problem. Then look for another image that represents the “after” once they’ve been fortunate enough to work with you. Place the two images side-by-side using the split-screen technique above. Can you use this slide to help your audience see between the lines?

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