Is a Picture Really Worth a Thousand Words?

Is a Picture Really Worth a Thousand Words?

Created: Wednesday, February 22, 2012 posted by at 9:30 am

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By Geetesh Bajaj

A picture is worth a thousand words.

We’ve all heard this saying a thousand times and more. However, just because we heard it so many times, does not make it a norm. Frankly speaking, this observation may not even be true all the time! So what are those scenarios when this is not true?

Is a picture really worth a thousand words?

Is a picture really worth a thousand words?
Is a picture really worth a thousand words?

Here are nine such scenarios, along with ideas that will help you make sure that your pictures are certainly worth a thousand words.

1. Speak Your Picture’s Story

A picture on a slide can certainly tell a story, but that story needs to be retold by the presenter. Many presenters and slide designers take the analogy of a picture being equal to a thousand words quite literally—and they believe a message or a story has been provided to the audience, just because they added a picture!

It is quite possible that the audience relates to a different story, especially since the presenter did not explain why he or she had to show a picture of an airplane in a presentation about managing finances!

01 Speak Your Picture's Story

01 Speak Your Picture's Story
Speak Your Picture's Story

Image: Scopio

So what is the solution? Make sure you explain your pictures, and why you chose a particular picture. Here are some thoughts and guidelines:

  • It’s OK to choose a picture that appears unrelated as long as you can connect the dots for your audience. Explaining this connection can allow you to gamify your presentation, and ask audiences to guess and interact. Of course, this assumes you have enough time to take this route!
  • Pictures can bring out empathy, allowing the audience to sense emotions. To use this option effectively, you must not forget the message you want to provide to the audience.
  • Also, consider if the audience may find any aspect of your picture negative. What’s acceptable in some cultures may be perceived negative in others.

2. Relevance is the Key

A picture is generally effective if it is relevant to the content of your slide, or if you make it relevant—much thought needs to go into the selection of a picture. Just any picture will not work. In situations like this, it is better not to use a picture than using the wrong visual.

What could be the wrong visual? Looking at just one example, slide designers and presenters fall into this trap of using a visual that is so generic that it might be used to explain a hundred concepts. A classic example is a picture of the light bulb or a picture of people shaking hands. These clichéd pictures have been used so often, and audiences have seen them in so many slides—resulting in them not being so relevant anymore!

02 Relevance is the Key

02 Relevance is the Key
Relevance is the Key

Image: Scopio

So please do some brainstorming with colleagues or friends, or even brainstorm with yourself before you decide that this is the correct picture for your slide. Taking the time to choose the correct picture always helps, and your audience will appreciate your effort.

3. Use Fewer Pictures

Let’s start with a rule:

More than one picture to illustrate a single concept is a picture too many.

Remember, two pictures may not be worth two thousand words! Yes, you can use multiple pictures if one builds upon the other. For example, you may show a famous building in one picture, and speak about it to the audience. Then, you show a completely different angle or even a close-up of some carving on the building’s exterior in another picture. And then you speak about this architectural detail. In this example, the second picture would add value to the first picture.

03 Use Fewer Pictures

03 Use Fewer Pictures
Use Fewer Pictures

Image: Scopio

Here are some guidelines you can explore to justify the use of multiple pictures:

  • When you are comparing something at different times, maybe a century ago and now, or even in the morning and in the night.
  • When you are showing two different perspectives or angles to highlight something important.
  • When you are showing a larger picture, and a second close-up picture.
  • When you add a certain value by using more than one picture.

4. Explore Silhouettes

A picture that distinctly shows a human being of one race may not work too well in a multi-racial or international audience. In such a situation, explore using silhouettes. It is surprising how much more you can express with a mere silhouette.

04 Explore Silhouettes

04 Explore Silhouettes
Explore Silhouettes

Image: Scopio

There are other benefits in using silhouettes, and there’s more you need to be aware of:

  • Silhouettes can be bitmap pictures where sunlight or lack of light sources may render human forms or other objects as silhouettes. Silhouettes can also be vector images that are drawn. Understand these differences in our Bitmaps and Vector Graphics page.
  • If you are using your own photographs, another benefit of using silhouettes is that the human faces in the pictures are unrecognizable. You don’t have to worry much about model releases and other legal stuff. But be careful; are you sure that the silhouettes cannot be un-silhouetted in a program such as Adobe Photoshop by using the Levels option to bring in some light? When in doubt, always use the option that is 100% legal.
  • Try and combine silhouettes with other visual effects to make the end results more interesting. Play with picture editing options in PowerPoint or any other presentation or graphic program to create your unique style.
  • Don’t use silhouettes all the time. Everything works best when used in moderation.

5. Describe Pictures

A picture worth a thousand words sometimes may need a caption of five to seven words. Don’t shy away from describing the picture!

05 Describe Pictures

05 Describe Pictures
Describe Pictures

Image: Jump Story

Here are some reasons to describe pictures with captions or other options:

  • At times, you may not play the role of a live presenter. In such cases, a caption makes sure that the audience perceives the picture in the same way as you perceived it.
  • Even if you are presenting, a caption articulates your perceptions and allows you to build upon your thoughts. You save precious time: the caption and you work as a team.
  • Although captions are conventionally placed as text below the picture, you can also add captions over the picture itself. This can work sometimes, but not always. If you do opt to place your caption over the picture, make sure the text is readable.
  • Captions are not exactly statutory content. For statutory content, you can get away with text that’s not too large enough in size, as long as it exists. Captions, on the other hand, are meant to be read. So they need to be at least the same size as your body text.
  • Captions allow you to be multi-lingual, and you can add captions in two or more languages. If your presentation is being translated live by human transcribers or even AI-driven technologies, add captions in common languages that your audience understands.
  • The caption area can also be used for other stuff, such as accrediting the source of the picture.

6. Pictures of the Same Style Stay Together

The right picture style is also important. If you use a cartoon-style image, a photograph, a silhouette, and a map–all in one slide, without a unifying factor, then you may have committed the biggest picture-usage mistake of all.

06 Pictures of the Same Style Stay Together

06 Pictures of the Same Style Stay Together
Pictures of the Same Style Stay Together

Image: Scopio

Here are some guidelines that will help you work with the same picture styles:

  • As far as possible, use the same style as a unifying thread to visually connect all pictures within a presentation.
  • You can use color tones as a unifying picture style. Try and choose pictures from a similar color palette.
  • PowerPoint, some presentation programs, and graphic programs allow you to alter picture hues to unify all pictures with color (see screenshot below). Similarly, you can unify with effects, frames, shapes, and so much more. As far as possible, try to use a unifying factor.

06 Unify with Color

06 Unify with Color
Unify with Color

The contemporary trend for the last few years has been to use photographs rather than cartoon-style clip art. However, do remember that a commissioned cartoon is entirely different from cartoon-style clip art; if you use a great cartoon that has a message which is relevant to your presentation, then that’s very acceptable. However, don’t mix cartoon-style with another style.

7. Pristine Pictures Speak Better

Picture quality is a very significant issue. Do not use visuals that are blurred, pixelated, or pictures that are out of focus.

07 Pristine Pictures Speak Better

07 Pristine Pictures Speak Better
Pristine Pictures Speak Better

Image: Jump Story

Here are some thoughts that will help:

  • Pristine visual quality is expected these days.
  • Higher resolution displays are the norm. These displays are color-faithful and sharper, and allow audiences to quickly judge the quality of your visual content. Poor quality visuals are easier to spot.
  • Lower quality imagery can create a negative impression, and you or your company may be considered unprofessional.

8. Crop Out the Unrequired

Picture cropping can be very useful. Try to crop to an area of the picture where you want to focus the audience’s attention.

08 Crop Out the Unrequired

08 Crop Out the Unrequired
Crop Out the Unrequired

Image: Scopio

Here are some guidelines about cropping:

  • Cropping is another area where higher-resolution visuals can help. Most online stock photo sites provide pictures that are 5000 pixels or more in width. You can easily crop these to around 2000 pixels in width or even lower, and still end up with amazing quality.
  • Plus, you still benefit from removing unrequired or distracting areas of the image altogether.
  • Many times, you can also combine cropping with rotation or flipping to get better results. Best of all, options to crop, rotate, and flip are available right within PowerPoint and most presentation and graphic programs.
  • Even better, most cropping tasks may be accomplished in less than a minute. And if you don’t like the results, you can always undo and start over again.

9. Respect Copyrights

Finally, any picture worth a thousand words is worth none at all if you do not respect copyrights. Don’t steal images from online image searches. Be aware of picture copyrights. Do you know that you can get great pictures for free or almost next to nothing? There’s no reason at all why you should respect copyrights.

09 Respect Copyrights

09 Respect Copyrights
Respect Copyrights

Image: Scopio

To know more, do read about Public Domain and Creative Commons. You may also want to learn about using photos in presentations.

You May Also Like: Why Use PowerPoint at All? A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

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