As you have already learned before, utilizing great visuals is essential in persuading, inspiring, selling or changing minds of your audience in any way. But changing minds or opinion is only one reason why you need to use good visual support.

Because before your audience goes and does whatever you want them to do, you need to help them in one more thing.

To remember what you said.

A clear winner in the race to remember

Consider this case of two students. Matt and Judy are both studying Mathematics. In their class the teacher has recently started discussing a new concept, which was not easy to understand. Unfortunately, both of them missed the class. What a bummer. But they are both ambitious. They still want to understand, but they cannot do this on their own. So they decide to strike a short conversation with the teacher, so he can explain the new concept.

They both take a different approach.


Matt decides to casually discuss the topic during the break. He approaches the professor and they walk and talk for several minutes while the teacher verbally explains the problem. Matt listens carefully, nodding and giving the impression, both to himself and the teacher, that he got it.

Three days later, Matt will only remember 10% of this discussion. Let’s have a look at how Judy tackles this problem.


She takes a different approach. After the class, she approaches the teacher and asks about the difficult topic. They talk for several minutes. During the discussion, due to simple convenience and availability, the teacher picks up the chalk and scribbles a few simple lines and shapes on the blackboard. They are the big picture model of what he just explained to Judy. They talk over it as they both constantly refer to the drawing on the board.

Three days later, Judy will remember 65% of this discussion.

How come?

We tend to remember much better, when there is a picture associated with the topic.

Why pictures are superior for memorizing

Picture Superiory Effect has been studied and researched for years, and there is plenty of data consistently showing it to be true. Simply put, we tend to remember much better, when there is a picture associated with the topic. After three days, we will remember approximately 65% of the content that was supported with a visual. Data doesn’t look so great when all we got were words. Then it stops at a disappointing 10%.

How is this possible? Have a look here:dogs vs PSE

If I tell you of a ‘dog‘, you will get the image of a dog in your head. That’s not rocket science, or is it? The reason it works is because you already know how a dog looks like and that knowledge is stored in your brain (that thing in the middle of the picture above). It’s easy to go from the word ‘dog’ to recalling a visual image of an actual dog.

You have seen them before, haven’t you?

But what If I told you of something like, say, ‘Picture Superiority Effect‘? What will you see? Chances are you have never heard, or neither you have seen, this concept before. What will you think of?

Naturally, we can discuss it, but without helping you to see how it looks like, how it feels like, you are not going to remember a lot several days later. But if I told you about the Picture Superiority Effect while showing you something like this:


Now that’s better. You will remember this concept much longer, guaranteed. That’s why in all classes that I run, I always have a flipchart or whiteboard handy, to quickly illustrate key concepts. Note the word quickly. More on that below.

Good news. Now there is at least 65% chance now that next time you hear of picture superiority, you will recall it:pse wins

Visual aids are critical in ensuring that your message sticks with the audience.

That’s something you want, right? So how to go in large with Picture Superiority during your next show and make the best of it? Keep reading…

How to nail your next presentation

Believing that the audience is going to remember what you told them, simply because it was interesting is, at the very least, foolish. They won’t.

Of course, if 10% of information after 3 days is something that works for you, then you can skip the visual support. But I imagine you have spent hours, even days preparing for this presentation. Is 10% really something you can be satisfied with?

Make sure to follow few simple guidelines to make the best out of your speaking interactions while using visuals:

1. Make it simple

The simpler the better.

It really is. Especially with using visuals when speaking because you rely on the audience being able to quickly glance at the picture and get back to you. The picture should simplify your message, not make it more complex.

The hallmark of a smart person is to show complex things in a simple way.

Adding complexity can create fatigue as audience is trying to understand it, while listening to you talking at the same time. You will either lose them as they try to decode your high-detailed visual, or they will ignore the visual therefore miss a lot from the key point. Neither is what you want.

Make complex, simple. The hallmark of a smart person is to show complex things in a simple way, not reverse.

2. Close the gap of understanding

Think of the dog example. Easy. Now think of some abstract concept or idea you usually talk about in your presentation. What are the chances the audience have ever actually seen how it looks like? Can they easily visualize what you talk about? Is it too complex to draw?

Remember, they are not in your head. Perhaps you do have a visual in your head that helps you to understand the concept. Don’t count on the audience having that in front of them, in their minds, as you speak.

Establish understanding with a simple visual.

Audience is hard work already. Tracking the speaker, analyzing what he says, trying to relate how this applies to their life and numerous distractions on top of it all. All of these make it difficult for your audience to fully embrace your great idea. Help them. Show it to them.

Plant an image in their heads that they can relate to (also in the future). Establish understanding with a simple visual. Use eye-catching shapes and drawings.

3. Use metaphors

A metaphor is a figure of speech that refers to something as being the same as another thing for rhetorical effect (Wikipedia). Forget the speech part. It’s just a figure. It can as well be a drawing! How can you create a picture that relates to something your audience already knows or understands? Can you picture your idea as a shape? An object? A concept already known to them?

Metaphors are powerful because they carry a lot of depth and content captured in a minimal form.

Draw some early sketches of your concept/visual. Try to think visually. How does it look like? What does it resemble? What name can you put on it?

Metaphors are powerful because they carry a lot of depth and content captured in a minimal form. They are smart. And so is the perception of their creators.

Over To You

Have you noticed the recent spike in popularity of various info-graphics? Social media are drowning in them. What about Pinterest? Instagram? It’s all visual. It’s quick for our eyes to scan. It’s pleasurable for our brains to decode. It’s easy to remember.

We are visual. Trying to go around this fact when speaking in public will not serve you well. Instead, harness the power of visual support during your next opportunity. Have that simple, meaningful and metaphorical visual ready.

It is at least six times more likely that they will remember your message.

Now tell me:

  • what concepts you will talk about and what are your ideas to make them visual?
  • do you think visually when preparing for a speech or do you write everything down?
  • what is picture superiority effect? 🙂 Just kidding. It is virtually guaranteed that you know!
Wojciech is a trainer, teacher and life-long learner on the topic of effective communication. He believes that speaking clearly, effectively and with confidence is essential to our success and taking advantage of all life’s opportunities. READ MORE