Visualizing success – using imagery to persuade and influence

(A post by Andrew Thorp)

I came across an interesting image on LinkedIn the other day, one that’s generated a lot of commentary. Most of those comments have been about people’s views on success – the image implies that it’s not a smooth linear process but a series of detours, something on which we’d all agree.

But what struck me about it is how much meaning is packed into a simple image. People will draw different things from the picture – for some it’s about careers becoming less stable and more project-based. For others it’s about the invariably troubled and colourful journey of the successful entrepreneur or perhaps the trials of parenthood. But it all cases the image creates a reaction of some kind. 

There are some lessons here for those looking to persuade through PowerPoint or the spoken word. It’s tempting to assume that packing lots of statistics and bullet points into your presentation will add weight to your proposition. But audiences need to FEEL something too and judicious use of imagery can help. 

I say judicious because hitherto factual presenters who start using imagery often resort to weak humour or unimaginative references to ‘corporate fire-fighting’ (accompanied by a picture of some…firefighters). They might use stock photography with impossibly beautiful and racially balanced characters whereas a REAL picture they actually took (or feature in) would work better.

 And don’t even get me started on clip art!

Using reveals can work well too. If you help people with fire and flood insurance claims, it’s useful to show a picture of the house flooded (talking up the distress and inconvenience it caused the owner) and then click to the next slide to reveal the ‘after’ version (looking like a show home). Having the before-and-after on the same page wouldn’t have the same impact. 

Go into the picture too. Bring it to life by explaining who the tall woman is in the background, how she accidentally got into the frame during the kids’ Santa race but subsequently turned out to be a significant player in the story. 

Remember, you can paint pictures with words too. Telling a story helps but as comedian Frank Carson used to point out, it’s the ‘way you tell ‘em’! Listing what happened (a kind of bullet point version of storytelling) leaves people cold. But describing the scene – how everyone stared at you as you walked across the shop floor (like a scene from a Western where the music stops playing), how the atmosphere around the board table was frosty, how the CEO’s expression changed from distant to animated when you got onto the subject of golf – all this adds texture and helps the audience to visualise what it was like to be there. They become emotionally involved because you’ve added something sensory to the tale. 

Patrick Renvoise describes himself as a ‘neuro-marketer’ and explains that our brains naturally incline to images. He’ll ask an audience, “how many windows are there in your front room at home?” Ask yourself the same question, but then ask another – how did you figure it out? You imagined yourself stood in the room, right? You visualised yourself there in order to figure it out.

Moving pictures can work well too of course. Hans Rosling took the TED conference by storm with his extraordinary presenting style. His topic (a study of mortality and fertility rates) doesn’t sound too promising but he makes it thoroughly absorbing and entertaining. See how Derek Sivers demonstrates leadership through a grainy video and watch Dan Pink’s TED talk on motivation transformed through real-time cartoon drawing.

If you’re a leader, sales person, manager or anyone seeking to persuade and influence, learning how to use imagery will vastly improve your chances of success.

The journey might be a bit squiggly, but it’s worth taking on!

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About Mojo Your Business

Mojo Your Business is an innovative training & consultancy company based in Manchester, UK. We're passionate about helping businesses and individuals perform better through effective communication. We specialise in corporate storytelling and how it applies to internal and external communication (employee relations, employability skills, leadership, relationship building, sales, marketing and public relations). More at
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