Tag Archives: graphics

Persuasive Presenting: Death To Red Herrings

Presentation design: Avoid ClichésI once sat in court for a Big Oil client and watched with a mix of bemusement and horror as the plaintiff’s attorney put up an illustration of an anthropomorphized fat cat in a suit struggling to hold shut the door of a closet bursting with skeletons.

We can all see what my confused adversaries were going for: Big Oil is a bunch of fat cats with skeleton-filled closets. Don’t trust them!

A fair argument when it comes to Big Business of all sorts, but the miscalculation is this: Clichés are so overused that they bore our brains. This, likely expensive, piece of design was a throw-away for the jury.

Well-used metaphors can engage the brain and create powerful associations. Researchers in 2006 found that our brains are stimulated by original and intriguing metaphors that use sensory-charged words like “coffee,” “lavender,” and “perfume.” In fact, these words light up the primary olfactory cortex of the brain – the cortex in charge of processing smell.

However, when metaphors age and, finally, mature into clichés the effect diminishes. Phrases often heard in courtrooms like “a lot of moving parts,” “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” and “pulling wool over our eyes” become commonplace, meaningless language. In short, our brains read these phrases literally and the metaphor completely loses it’s ability to inspire thought or feeling.

I was once witness to slide where certain events on a timeline animated into “red herrings.” The trial team was enamored with the cleverness of the slide, but I watched as the jury sat, passive and bored, as the fish appeared. It simply did nothing for them.

If the jury remembered this graphic at all during deliberations, I’m fairly sure it was referred to as that “strange fish timeline.” A better strategy would have been to simply turn the offending events red and notate that the importance of these events was falsely exaggerated by opposing counsel. Then remove them completely and discuss what the situation looks like without them. Now a powerful point has been made, rather than just labeling events red herrings and expecting that tired phrase to do the work for you.

When it comes to incorporating graphics into your presentation, leave the clichés out and focus your resources on the concrete facts of your case. The more original your use of metaphor, the more it will resonate with your audience – inspiring thought and associations with the arguments you’re presenting.

Further reading:
Another Red Herring Story and Nine Other Don’ts from the Persuasive Litigator

Advertisements

Thinking In Pictures

Thinking In PicturesIt has been long recognized that visual representations greatly enhance our ability to remember and recall information. In fact, the dominance of the visual sense is the most important principle of the Art of Memory.

Perhaps Aristotle said it best, “The soul never thinks without a picture.” (De Anima)

If one hears “red brick house, 4 windows, stoop with three steps” an image begins to form in the brain, essentially streamlining the words heard into one cohesive picture. The brain is doing some work here to make information easier to remember.

When presenting information to an audience the goal is to not only engage your audience but to make your arguments or data memorable. Don’t make your audience do more work than they need to, because, as all presenters know… they wont.

Why not help the brain out and make the information as easy to remember as possible? Do the work of the brain, so you’re not relying on disinterested brains to take that extra step. Show your audience illustrations, icons and diagrams that they can associate with the information presented.

For instance, a scientist tasked with explaining the similarities and differences between diamonds and graphite to laypeople might offer a confusing explanation of molecular structure, carbon and tetrahedral formations. The audience, unfamiliar with the terms and thus unable to streamline the information into a cohesive visual idea, will likely discard the information. The scientist has just failed his task, when instead, he could have offered a simple diagram to increase the audience’s retention.

Molecular Carbon ImageThis slide, constructed for a patent hearing, shows the molecular structure and bonding configurations of sp2 and sp3 carbon, and then ties that information to the end product, something familiar to the layperson. Suddenly, the scientist’s task is easier and the audience has a visual aid to both understand and remember just what this scientist is trying to explain.

When presenting, its critical to use your slides to give the audience all the visual cues and imagery they need to be able to quickly comprehend and file away the information for future recall.

Like Confucius said, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember.”