Communicate More Effectively: Illustrate Your Point

By: Mike Artell

Think of a tennis ball. Go on, give it a try. A tennis ball.

Now, tell me: Are you thinking of the letters T-E-N-N-I-S B-A-L-L? Or are you thinking of a small, fuzzy yellow ball?

If you’re like most people, you’re thinking of the picture rather than the word. That’s because much of what we think about appears in our minds as pictures. Want to try again? Think of the Mona Lisa. Same result, right? You think of the image, not the word.

Approximately 80 percent of what we learn comes to us visually. Yet in many learning environments, the presenter spends most of his or her time talking. Many Gen X and Gen Y learners grew up watching “Sesame Street,” which employs rapid-fire images, music, bright colors and humor to teach basic language arts concepts and positive character traits. MTV videos used the same techniques. These younger learners are not “moved” by training sessions that are logo-centric. And even older learners have become accustomed to the cascade of sounds and images on TV, billboards, mobile phones and Internet-connected reading devices that incorporate images, music, videos and more.

The key to presenting a message more effectively is to change how you think and communicate. This goes for learning executives as well as for the leaders they are developing. It’s not hard. Here’s how:

1. Think more visually.

Use photos, images, cartoons and signs in place of words whenever possible. Hold up a sign, wave a flag, turn off the lights and turn on a flashlight, gesture broadly. You don’t have to be silly or unnatural, but you do have to be memorable – or else why are you there? Ask yourself, “How can I demonstrate my point in a visual way?”

2. Tell stories.

Can’t use visuals for some reason? Then tell personal stories and use “visual” words. How? By using all your senses. For example, you might say: “I did some work with a steel mill in Pennsylvania once, and I’ll never forget the intensity of the heat radiating from the metal or the heavy, caustic smell and taste that hung in the air.” Be sure to describe what you saw, heard, felt, smelled or tasted. But keep it brief. Attention spans are short these days.

3. Ask rhetorical questions.

After you make your point, ask the audience questions they answer in their own minds. For example, when discussing customer service, you might say: “Have you ever had someone get so angry at the situation that they started to scream at you and then broke down and started to cry?” The visual memory of an incident like that is a powerful anchor to which you can attach your message.

4. Add humor.

There’s nothing funny about humor. Unenlightened organizations may see it as frivolous and unnecessary, but that’s not the case. It is a sense just like vision or hearing, and it’s just as important. One of the primary ingredients of humor is surprise. Do or show something the audience is not expecting. It doesn’t have to be big or earth-shattering. It just has to be unexpected and fun.

Even if your organization is going through challenging times, you can choose to find a positive perspective that you can represent in a powerful, visual way. Talking can be effective, but it’s important to help people “see” what you’re talking about. And that requires that you think and communicate more visually.

You can do it. And you’ll be a more effective, more memorable communicator when you do.

About the Author:

Mike Artell is an award-winning author and illustrator, TV cartoonist and musician. He has a deep background in sales and marketing management and is a communication consultant.

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