How to Communicate Abstract Concepts in Your Presentation

Category: Guidebook, 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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