Part 2: Present with Memory-enabling Power
In part 1, the visual voice is described like a presenter’s fingerprint. It is the visuals that accompany the verbal (spoken or written) part of a presentation. This post uncovers the effects visuals have on the brain’s ability to remember what was seen and heard.
We live and work in the context of a multimodal world where it is rare to encounter visual images by themselves, rather people often experience visuals with some form of text that combines written language, design elements, and visual imagery. These forms work in concert with one another to represent meanings and convey information.
Since humans rely on visual aids to interpret the world, they routinely use visual and nonverbal communication. Your visual voice encompasses your visual and nonverbal communication but is much more than just making your slides and materials look good. Research suggests the use of visuals and visualization strategies can also improve the audience’s cognitive ability to select, organize, and integrate information for better retention and recall. This is very important when presenting data. Edward Tufte has written and designed books that show visuals are easier to understand, especially when comparing complex data, correlations and trends in charts or graphs.
We are tapping into a presenter’s hope: to be heard and understood. When the message is heard AND seen the chances of it being understood increases greatly. Given that presenters are intentional communicators and when their purpose is instruction, then they may also be called educators or trainers. Regardless, the goal is the same; to transfer facts, concepts, and ideas into the memory of the audience.
Visualization engages people and helps stimulate their brains function to store information, thus increasing the chances it can be recalled. How? Human memory can process verbal and visual information simultaneously and store it in two distinct memory locations with interconnections that increase the chance of recall according to research by Psychologist Allan Paivio. Paivio’s dual-coding theory proposes that nonverbal and verbal information are stored separately in long-term memory. Imagine that information presented in both visual and verbal forms has twice the chances of being stored and then later remembered!
However, presenters often do not effectively use both verbal and visual communication skills (i.e., their full visual voice) to help the audience encode the information into long-term memory for easier recall. While the verbal component of a presentation may be understandable, the visualization is often lacking the same communicative quality. If the visuals look distracting or unreadable, then you can expect the audience to lose interest and not engage with the content, which is contrary to the presenter’s purpose.
Visual voice assists the expression of the presenter’s tone. Visual images can communicate powerful emotions in succinct ways that language alone would take much longer to communicate. Images showcase swaths of complex information quickly and when combined with graphic design elements can enhance the visual quality of the presentation. Developing a visual voice is a solution to creating visually stimulating presentations that help the audience engage with the content in meaningful ways that also support memory retention. A memorable presentation is worth the time it takes to watch it.
The presenter with a strong visual voice is rewarded with a more engaging presentation and the audience is rewarded with information delivered in a manner that is relevant and meaningful, thus increasing the chances it will be remembered.
In part 3 of the Visual Voice series, I’ll describe how presenters at any perceived level of creativity can develop their visual voice by consistently applying four design principles with a few fundamental design elements. The principles and elements work together to support the audience’s cognitive process to select, organize, and integrate information into memory for better retention.