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What one picture is worth

Yesterday I was tweaking some speech templates I provide for clients, designing a way to integrate story into existing organizational structure (beginning, middle, end; never more than 4 main points; tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, then tell them that you told them). While we need to keep employing these principles, we also need to share more stories in our speeches and presentations.  People learn from story. Narrative arc provides structure, suspense keeps listeners hooked. People will stop what they are doing to listen to a good story, as the announcers at my local NPR station are fond of saying during the current winter pledge drive. I am sure we have all had our "driveway moments"

Of course my biggest battle in this area is from those who feel they absolutely must present everything in PowerPoint. (sigh!) It can be a useful tool when your graphic or picture really is worth a thousand words. Or thematically underscores your presentation. But when you are putting 6-8 bullet points in teeny tiny print up on a large screen you aren't doing yourself or your audience any favors! And charts and graphs need to be used judiciously: make them big, bold, easily read and easy to understand.

I am told that PowerPoint presentations are necessary "for the visual learners in the audience." Really? I have two responses: #1: Putting words on a screen to be read while you are saying something else is confusing even for people who learn through language. And if you do put the same words on the screen that you are saying, you will bore everyone in the room. #2: What about the kinesthetic learners? The musical learners? How are you reaching them?

A few summers ago I was working with Asian climate change scientists and educators as part of George Washington University's PISA program. I knew they liked to use charts and graphs a lot in their presentations, and wanted them to make sure they did not become over-dependent on this method of content delivery. I was searching for an example I could use to illustrate my point. And I asked them, these climate change experts, what image they remembered most about Al Gore's "slide show" in An Inconvenient Truth. Was it the large, detailed graphs? Charts showing ever-increasing temperature deviations? No. It was the polar bear stranded on his ever-diminishing piece of ice. An image with a story. That sticks.

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