"Words, words, words, I'm so sick of words ... Show me" — So says Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady." From lack of use, we dulled our ability to think in visual terms. We need to awaken a thinking that is natural to all of us from the time we are children. However, words come easier to us as adults. Our focus shifts from the speaker, or the presenter, to the listener, or the receiver. Thinking in "show me" terms requires us to move to the creative, playful part of our brains.
THE CHALLENGE — To help you with your work on awakening, find an already developed computer slide-presentation containing at least 10 slides. Either print it out or re-name the file to protect the original and to have a way to compare. As we move forward, you will build a tool kit to help you shift from words to graphic and pictorial symbols, from verbal relationships to visual relationships, from numerical data to graphical formats, from facts and processes to story-telling messages, and finally from broad concepts or ideas that are both visible and invisible to new ways of conceiving ideas.
TOOL #1 — For the first tool in your kit, you will need an "editing knife" to remove excess words. Taking one slide at a time, you will cut words until you have no more that 24 words per slide. Ignoring the title slide for now, cut any logos, company names, presenter information, phone numbers, copyright notices. If you still have more than 24 words, look at each slide-line of content. Retain the essential and eliminate the excess. Hint: most slide-lines guide the presenter, not the listener! Preserve only the message the reader needs to understand.
TOOL #2 — What you have now is a set of "reader" slides for which your audience must be verbally literate, but not visually literate. Now you are ready for your next tool, an emphasizer. How would you emphasize the key words in each slide? Think about highlighting, type size, font changes, symbols beside key words. So far the changes have been largely cosmetic. You trimmed the fat. You made the presentation's message easier to grasp.
TOOL #3 — Now, you want to examine your slides for any to which you can add pictorial or graphic symbols, visual clues or cues. Here, your tools are more versatile. If you have a photograph which conveys something about your message, try superimposing words on top of the photograph. If you have clip art, locate symbols that help your audience grasp your message. Insert the clues appropriately. Try charts, diagrams, graphs, maps, geometric symbols, shading. Experiment. Play freely. Enjoy the awakening of a too-long dormant language.
SHIFTING TO MENTAL — At some point, your slides shift from totally "verbal" messages to "balanced" messages that use words combined with visual information. As your visual language strengthens, unbalance your slides in the direction of increased visual information. Focus especially on information that guides the audience to what you want them to see and understand. You are now moving from a physical toolkit to a mental toolkit.
VISUALIZING BIG IDEAS — When you accept your emerging skills with visual language, focus on the visualization of big ideas. These may take a form which does not quickly lend itself to visual language. The least visual are those messages that involve the depiction of generalizations, beliefs and feelings, future visions. Feel free, with these challenges, to invent entire new ways of depicting them visually. Of course, the greatest challenge is the vision of the future. How do you visually communicate the unknown?
VISUAL LABORATORY — To help you visualize the future, construct a visual laboratory for yourself. Study movie posters — one-page conceptualizations of two-hour events. Study 30-second television commercials — with the sound missing. Look especially at the backgrounds in the commercials. Ask yourself, "What part of the total message is embedded in the visual clues in the background? What is the "hidden persuaders" message? Finally, study 24-hour television-news programs. Especially watch how they handle rapidly changing information through their smart boards. You, now, are working totally with your mental toolkit.
YOUR STORYBOARD — Now with your earlier editing of existing slides and your developing laboratory of examples to imitate or adapt, you are ready to conceptualize your future. See it as your evolving storyboard. As your conceptualizing skills mature, you have fully awakened your visual vocabulary. You have, in fact, shifted from a verbal person of "words, words, words" to a "show me" person who actually sees big ideas visually.
- Virginia McBride