Visual Voice 2

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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 Dual Coding Imagememory 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.

Credit: Photo courtesy of Jason Roswell (jason-rosewell-60014.jpg) at Unsplash.com

 

Visual Voice

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Part 1: Discover What’s Missing from Your Presentation

If people learn a majority of content from visuals, it’s important for presenters to show what they’re saying as much as speak it to their audience. You have likely seen a few presentations so filled with words, both spoken and presented in the slides, that you had difficulty hearing the message.

Presentations are best understood when delivered with a well-spoken message and an equally good visualization of the message. A great speaker with poor slides is using only half their power to speak to the audience. The missing half is a complementary partner to their speaking ability: their visual voice.

The visual voice is like a fingerprint. It is a presenter’s communication style using images and design elements to deepen the meaning of and multiply the impact of their verbal presentation.

Effective use of visual voice helps the audience to remember the presentation by guiding them to better select, organize, and integrate the information into something meaningful in their memory. The visual voice supports the verbal voice to create a coherent message where the verbal and visual are meaningfully presented together.

The effective presenter’s visual voice can enhance the audience’s understanding of the message by showing what they are saying. The ability to visualize a presentation with the appropriate and judicious use of graphic design is the beginning of developing one’s visual voice.

The graphic quality of the visual voice is like the tonal quality of a singer’s voice and both are developed through practice. You may be thinking that you’re not a graphic designer, but the truth is you have skills waiting to be developed! You may be thinking that you have no artistically creative cell in your brain. Even if the one cell that you have is hiding in the deepest recesses, it can be developed and then shown how to raise up a few others. You can learn to apply a few basic graphic design principles, or guidelines, to empower your presentation with visual voice. 

You can learn to apply a few basic graphic design principles, or guidelines, to empower your presentation with visual voice and increase the chance your audience will remember what you’ve said. 

In part 2 of the Visual Voice series, explore how the power of visual voice can literally create a more memorable presentation.

In part 3, uncover the how-to techniques of building up your visual voice with a few basic graphic design techniques.

Breaking Out of the Visual Box

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Did you know there is a professional organization that encompasses multiple disciplines?

Disciplines in the spectrum of education (all levels), instructional technology, sensory arts, art history, product design, graphic design, culinary arts, food science, textile technologies and visual arts, all find a comfortable fit in one place.

The IVLA is the International Visual Literacy Association. Founded in 1969 as an interdisciplinary collective of scholars and practitioners inspired to explore the commonalities of the visual within their different domains. My working definition of visual literacy is:

The ability to read, interpret and create visual imagery, works, projects, art, and communications including the activation of sensory and cognitive processes that are engaged in the decoding and coding of such messages presented in any media.

Doesn’t that sound like some aspect of your work? Visual literacy seems to be used by everyone who communicates using media, but without an appreciative understanding of the power of the visual language. Education systems devote extensive learning time to the written language, but not enough time for teaching students how to communicate visually. That seems to me like speaking and writing with only half of your vocabulary. I’m not talking about teaching visual literacy in art classes. I advocate that every elementary and secondary teacher introduce visual literacy in every subject. That idea has transformative potential for how students “see” the world and create their own impression upon it. The results would be divergent and out-of-the-box imaginative.

How might teachers get turned on to the idea of visual literacy?

Recently, I attended the 48th Annual Conference of the International Visual Literacy Association, “Engaging the Senses” at Concordia University, Montreal (October 5-8), where I experienced multiple mind-blowing sessions, demonstrations, plenaries (yes, they use that word), and experiences designed for all the senses. Hosted by Dr. David Howes, Professor of Anthropology at Concordia University and led by IVLA President, Dr. Karen Tardrew, National-Louis University, the 3-day event featured a breadth of presentations, papers, workshops, forums, and demonstrations to fill each day with surprising visual, taste, and auditory experiences. In the small intimate environment, I met colleagues from around the world who shared a similar passion and focus on the importance of visual literacy for understanding our world. They presented photographic literacy, digital media representation, creative digital activism, comics, and early childhood writing. I found my people! A tribe of diverse scholars and practitioners, who boldy venture across cultural and social barriers to reach youth, indigenous people, even the blind. Yes, sensory literacy because eyes are not the only way of “seeing.”

Jason Edward Lewis delivered the opening keynote session, “Populatinimaginary_jasonlewisedwardsg the Future Imaginary,” which impressively connected visual literacy, social justice, and indigenous people. It was a fascinating description of his work with indigenous youth to claim their stake in the silicon soil of cyberspace in which they can wrinkle their to
es and tell their stories for future generations. Take science fiction and mix it with ancestral legends and traditions to create the legacy that become the stories of future generations of indigenous people. See his work at
Initiative for Indigenous Futures an Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace production.

Give a careful review of the conference website and program to get a better understanding of the diversity of content.

Since returning, I have thought of all the disciplines that were (or should have been) represented and uncovered plenty of inspiring connections between my work in instructional design, educational technology, teaching at all education levels, and academic scholarship all within IVLA. The peer reviewed publication is “Journal of Visual Literacy,“ published by Taylor and Francis.

I enthusiastically encourage you to explore the possibilities of IVLA for your own professional learning. I feel confident you will be inspired to see your work, craft and scholarship through new sensory lenses. I know you will find colleagues who can help connect you more deeply into visual literacy and elevate your passion for your work.

The next conference is September 14-17, 2017 at Lesley University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The theme will be “Designing Visual Literacy Experiences” hosted in collaboration with the Harvard Art Museum (HAM). The call for proposals will be posted in early spring 2017. Mark your calendars and look for updates on the IVLA website.

I wonder what you might present to inspire IVLA 2017?

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