How to Communicate Abstract Concepts in Your Presentation

You are stressed about your upcoming presentation.

You have spent countless number of hours looking for the right image for this slide but it is just not happening. It is now midnight and you are sitting in bed with your laptop. Undecided. Unsure.

You shake your wife awake. “Honey, which one better says teamwork’? This clipart of stick figures holding hands and standing around the light bulb or the businessman shaking hands with the guy holding the globe?

If you are making a pitch that involves jeans, cars, or new homes, I will safely assume that you will insert images into your presentation that has to do with the pitch: models wearing your jeans, pictures or videos of the cars, interior and exterior of your new homes. Because the pitch is for things and ideas that are tangible it is relatively easy to decide what image to show in your presentation.

What if you are dealing with an abstract idea?

But what do you do if you have to sell the value of something as intangible as divorce attorney services for women? What do you do if you are the attorney who needs to communicate that client satisfaction ratings are very important to his practice? Does he flash slides of bullet points? Blocks of text with long explanations of what they do? Graphs? Charts?

You could. But then you run the risk of boring people to tears. There is nothing worse than watching a presentation you have to read. (Unless the presenter is reading it for you. In that case you could have an imaginary race to see who gets done reading faster. You will probably win!) A better way is to find an image, a cartoon, an illustration or a diagram that conceptually shows what you cannot show in reality.

There is an attorney who did just that. Take a look at this picture. It captures the emotion of what you should feel when you hear the words, “We specialize in divorce services for women.” The point is made that this attorney gets you results and if you are a woman in need of their services, you would be well served by this firm.

Let’s take a look at another example

Let’s say you are leading a team that is having a hard time with changes that the company is going through and your job is to communicate and help them understand that the changes are inevitable. Now this is a pretty tough intangible topic to show with images but if I were to try, maybe I would build an image of a clock with the arms of the clock taped down so that they cannot move. The analogy conveys that just like you cannot make time stand still, you cannot stop evolution and change.

Let’s say that the intangible concept you want to convey is the amount of choices we have in our world today. There are multiple ways to do that visually because choice is a relatively easy concept to convey visually. You could show a full isle in a supermarket, or you could show a view of restaurant row with all the different choices of restaurants available to you. On the other hand you could choose something abstract like a butterfly hovering over a field of flowers, unsure which flower to drink nectar out of!

So how do you come up with ideas for images when the concept is abstract and intangible?

Let’s say you have to do a presentation on Customer Service skills. If you type in, “Customer Service” in the search box of the stock photo site, you will get a ton of clichéd images of people shaking hands, people talking over the phone or people in a meeting.

But you are surely looking for something more original and clever aren’t you?

Your search for original and clever images is going to need some deeper visual thinking.

There are three ways of thinking about this visually.

1. Think about emotions

(How does it make you feel?) What emotions do people feel when they get good or bad service? Do they get mad, or sad? Do they feel disgust at being treated badly? Pleasantly surprised when they were treated exceptionally well?

2. Think about reactions

(How do you react to it?) What happens when people get good or bad service? Do they speak with someone higher up? Do people write letters and emails to the company? Do they tell their friends on Facebook or send a tweet? Or maybe they just never go back and ‘boycott’ that business!

3. Think about results

(What happens as a result?) How does it end? What is the rest of the story? Does the business get more fans on Facebook because of your glowing review? Does their Yelp page get a ton of hits? If it did not end so well, does it affect their stock price? Do they publicly apologize to the consumers?

Now take those words that you came up with and use those search terms to look for the right image. Or ‘build’ an image that visually conveys exactly what you want to communicate. Because sometimes, no matter how hard you look you may not find the exact image. But how best to do that will be another blog post!

To summarize

When you want to find the right image for an abstract concept, thinking about and finding words that make you feel those emotions, reactions and results will give you a much richer set of images to choose from than you get from the clichéd images you will get from typing in the abstract idea that your presentation is based on.

Let’s do this together and share in the comments below, shall we? The abstract word we will be working on is “character”. So think about ‘character’ in terms of emotions, reactions and results, both positive and negative and post your new words or phrases below in the comments!

Sam Thatte is a Presentation Coach who helps you to become memorable and persuasive.

Stumped for examples of thought provoking images? Call Sam Thatte Presentation Design – (760) 383-1010.

 

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The 7th Grade Science Lesson Business Schools Neglect

Sir Isaac Newton

Sir Isaac Newton

Do you remember learning Sir Isaac Newton’s “laws of motion” in school? I wonder, were you like most of your classmates, questioning whether knowing this stuff would do you any good in the real world?

Today I want to apply Newton’s thinking to something other than physical science. You know me: I always have to look at things differently.

Newton’s 1st Law of Business?

Newton’s first law of motion states that objects tend to remain in the state of motion that they’re in. We use the term inertia to describe this phenomenon. Moving objects want to keep moving. Stationary objects like to stay still,

You can probably already see where I’m going with this.

If you’ve ever been in business, or seriously considered launching a one, you have almost certainly experienced what I’m talking about. Getting started is hard, isn’t it?

Changing your state of motion from stationary to forward motion takes a lot of energy. Not to mention if you have to get others to move with you! No part of the process requires more hard work than the initial phases. Think of the space shuttle. It takes two rocket boosters and a fuel tank bigger than the shuttle itself just for lift off. The rockets and fuel tank are unnecessary after the astronauts are several miles from the ground. I’m only guessing here, but I imagine that 95% of the fuel burned during the entire voyage is consumed in the first few minutes. Defeating inertia is not easy.

Once you’ve got things started and moving along, you’ve put the Newton’s law to work on the other side of the coin. Inertia in motion is also called momentum. Everything happens more quickly and with much less effort. It becomes difficult for any external force to stop you from getting where you’re headed in the same way it’s difficult when you first get started. Like trying to stop a freight train gliding down the track.

These principles work for your business as well.

Let me state my point explicitly. If you’re going to accomplish anything in business (or life in general) you have to overcome your natural state of non-motion. This is the hardest part. As people in the society most of my readers live in, it is a rare occurrence to find truly action-oriented adults. (My contention is that they beat this characteristic out of students around the same time they’re teaching them about Newton’s laws of motion. But that’s another topic entirely.)

Success Is a Choice

Inertia is the reason that success is never accidental. It may, however, be coincidental. For example, if a microbiologist stumbled across the cure for AIDS, you couldn’t call it a total accident. He or she was messing around in the lab, and happened to make a great discovery. It’s more of co-incidence, An unexpected result came from action already being taken. See what I mean?

The Dip

Seth Godin wrote a best-selling book called The Dip. The book (which I haven’t actually read) describes periods of struggle during any venture that really separate the “boys from the men,” as it were. If you push through the dip, you’ll find greater success than ever before. But most people can’t summon the willpower to continue working through such a trying time. According to this law of motion, the biggest dip can be found at the very beginning of any project. I’m willing to bet that Seth would agree. (If you read this, Mr. Godin, feel free to chime in.)Although creating a roadmap is essential to any endeavor, thinking about doing something doesn’t count as getting started. It’s the easiest thing in the world to get excited about a new idea or vision. Moving past that stage is harder. The emotion has to be translated into motion.

The Happily Mediocre

It wasn’t intentional, but there are no concrete business building lessons in this article, just one overriding concept. Do something! Fear, discomfort, looking crazy, the desire to conform (and the desire of the happily mediocre keep you from shining too brightly) and plenty of other reasons stand opposed to you. You’ll have to really dig in and push forward. Once you get the ball rolling a little, you will not regret the effort. Victory is waiting on you. But you won’t win by accident.


Donnie Bryant

Donnie Bryant

Marketing that works. Copy that converts. Results that matter.

Direct response copywriter, Donnie Bryant, welcomes questions about overcoming marketing inertia. Get in touch with him through email (db@donnie-bryant.com), by phone at 312-450-9291, or follow him on Twitter: @donniebryant.

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