The Art of Visualisation

Thursday, June 4th, 2009 2 comments


We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words, but despite this many people still insist that text and bullet points are the way to convey information in our presentations. Pictures can form a much more powerful way of communicating, but to be successful, we need to ensure that we use the correct pictures, to convey the correct message. This is known as visualisation.

Core Message

When creating a visual presentation, think first about what message you are trying to convey. Ask yourself ‘What am I trying to communicate with the slide?’ Does the audience require any supporting information to be able to understand your main theme and how could this be incorporated? Once you have your core information, we can then think about the kinds of images that might best depict this. In the example, we show how text can be translated into images to communicate much more quickly and much more effectively with your audience.

In PowerPoint we have the ability to use a series of images or diagrams, built up over time with animation, to convey messages that are much more complex than a single still image will often allow. It is important to remember this when looking for the visual clues in your message to build your visual slide.

Visual Clues

Within your message, there will be visual clues that help to identify the most appropriate visual to use to explain your point. If the message we need to convey is describing a process, one example of a visual clue is to show the process mapped out in each stage, showing any forward or reverse relationships between each stage in the process. Using a process map to describe the process, rather than text, we can not only show the detail of each stage in the process, but very quickly and effectively demonstrate to your audience when each stage occurs and whether there are any relationships between the stages.

Visual clues can give us the structure of an entire slide, like the process example above, where we want to demonstrate each element of a process in relation to the other elements. If we wanted to convey events over time, we might use a timeline visual to do this. If we had a data set in which we wanted to compare values of various elements, a bar chart would do this well. These are all examples of where the visual clue combines all the points of information that we want to communicate and the resulting graphic forms the structure for the entire slide. However, in many instances, there is no single answer and so instead we look for the smaller visual clues contained within the message we are communicating and string them together to create a sequence of visualised information. Examples of this include active phrases like ‘growing’, ‘shrinking’, ‘changing’, ‘closer’, ‘farther’ and ‘transitioning’. With these examples, it is animation that is the key to bringing these visual clues to life within our slide sequence.


If a picture is worth a thousand words, an animated slide is worth at least ten thousand words. The art of animation is so rarely used to develop presentations and yet it has the potential to add an enormous amount of value. Using animation, the process can be built up in chunks small enough for the audience to assimilate. Each element of the process can be introduced, explained and then placed into the bigger picture. The audience can be guided through each stage at a pace to suit them, ensuring uptake of the individual portions of the message and so therefore, ultimately, the whole message. Animation also allows us to highlight various elements of our basic process diagram, providing additional information on specific elements of the process. We can use this to highlight links between various elements or links back to previous pieces of information earlier in the presentation – or of things yet to come.

Effective Presentation

Visualisation is an effective way to engage audiences. Combining a core message, with simple (but not necessarily basic) diagrams, built up with animation will lead to your presentations and concepts being better understood by your audience and more memorable for longer periods.

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2 Comments to The Art of Visualisation

  1. #1

    damir brkic

    1:10 pm, December 7th, 2009

    Great hints! Please forward a copy.

  2. #2

    Joby Blume

    3:07 pm, December 18th, 2009

    Damir, sorry – but we aren’t distributing these presentations. I think the ideas are what is powerful anyway – it’s easy to find ways to eliminate text and visualise PowerPoint slides.