Visual Persuasion

Visually persuasive? Or not?  That’s one of the important questions you have to ask about a slide once you’ve moved beyond bullet points.  Change_1When you approach each slide as a full-screen palette, there are endless things you can do with images to communicate your message. Fortunately there’s a rich resource of visual rhetoric techniques you can mine, which are being pioneered in the field of advertising.

For example, in his 1997 book Visual Persuasion: The Role of Images in Advertising, Paul Messaris describes a political ad whose goal was to associate one candidate with "change" and the other candidate as "not". According to Messaris:

The ad consisted of four pairs of images shown in sequence. Each pair was accompanied on the soundtrack by the words, "This is change [Image #1]. This is not [Image #2]." The entire sequence went as follows:

  • an astronaut in a space suit ("change")
  • a mummy wrapped in gauze ("not")
  • a Boeing 747 taking off ("change")
  • a man peddling an old-fashioned flying machine ("not")
  • a computer-graphics display ("change")
  • an old-time telephone switchboard ("not")
  • (Candidate A), casually dressed, with supporters ("change")
  • (Candidate B), in business suit, in front of lectern ("not")

Messaris comments on the ad:

This ad provides a clear and straightforward illustration of the possibility of combining two different forms of visual syntax in a single, interlocking design.  Each pair of images contains a contrast, whereas the overall sequencing of the pairs generalizes this contrast and extends to the final pair… The implication that emerges from these two contrasting streams of images is that (Candidate A) is in touch with what is happening in today’s world, whereas his opponent is out of it, stuck in the past.

This example is only the tip of the iceberg of the simple yet powerful things you can do with the slides in your PowerPoint storyboard. The act of placing two photographs side-by-side on a single slide takes you into a different universe well beyond the quaint concepts of pre-designed templates, bullet points and Photoshop backgrounds.  Compared to the simple technique above, the techniques we normally limit ourselves to in PowerPoint are all "not". Instead, the profound power of visual persuasion is the revolutionary "change" you should be looking for.

Tip: If you’re looking for a way to apply a technique like this to your PowerPoint storyboard, a prime candidate is the pair of slides that form the "Balance" and "Imbalance" statements in Act I of your story template. Like the example above, these two slides indicate the "Point A" where your audience is, and the "Point B" where they’d like to be; or vice versa. See page 176, "The Split Screen", for details on how to construct this sequence of slides.  With a simple juxtaposition technique like this, you can break open the visual persuasiveness of your ideas and change your communication results for the better.

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