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The Power of Visual Storytelling in Business Presentations

The Power of Visual Storytelling in Business Presentations

When you hear the phrase “visual storytelling,” a lot of things might come to mind. Videos, animations, even things like newspaper comic strips. But when we talk about visual storytelling, what we mean is using your visuals as a means of supporting and strengthening your message, not replacing it.


Visual storytelling in business presentations means showing instead of telling. It means selecting images, infographics or other visuals instead of pushing more and more text onto a slide. And it’s one of the best (but least used) storytelling techniques for presentations that helps you craft a memorable and effective PowerPoint.


Here are a few of the reasons that you should consider using visual storytelling and other storytelling presentation ideas for your next PowerPoint presentation:

Visual storytelling helps the audience better absorb information

Contrary to almost every PowerPoint presentation you’ve ever sat through, science has shown that an audience can’t read content on a slide and listen to what a speaker is saying at the same time. Essentially, that means that too much text, even if it's read to the audience, can short-circuit the brain and reduce information retention.


So instead of typing out every word and then reading your slides aloud, you can use storytelling techniques for presentations to start thinking about how visuals can support your spoken message. By using visuals as a supplement to a well-considered voiceover, you’ll not only keep the attention on you, you’ll also improve your audience’s ability to remember what you are saying. That’s a win-win.


And if you are still worried about prioritizing visuals over text, a similar approach is used by world-class memory champions to help rapidly commit information to memory and make connections among seemingly disparate pieces of information.


A picture is worth a thousand words

That phrase may be a cliché, but there’s a reason it’s still in use: it’s true. Beyond just acting as a supplementary aid to a thoughtful voiceover, visual storytelling can actually communicate entire ideas, without you having to say (or write) a word. Here’s why:

Visuals can quickly communicate relationships, such as depth and breadth, and are helpful for comparing and contrasting information.


Visuals also excel at quickly conveying emotion. A striking photograph can set the mood for your presentation. Images can be juxtaposed to make unexpected comparisons that leave an impact on the audience. They can also be used to enhance the impact of a statement: just imagine saying “sales are up” as opposed to also using a graph with a trend line shooting through the top of the screen.


Finally, adding motion to your storytelling techniques for presentations also reinforces learning, while giving you the ability to pace out when information comes on screen. This is one of the best ways to support your voice over with visuals.


Put simply, visual storytelling (and storytelling for business presentations in general) is about learning to show, not just tell. Not only does it help your audience to retain information, but also makes them more engaged with your delivery by letting them discover and infer the most impactful pieces of your message, rather than being a passive audience to a lecture.


So how do you start using visual storytelling techniques in your presentations? Here are a few simple tips.


Tip #1: Start by reducing your content

If you want visual storytelling to work in your presentation, the first step is to make sure you have the right amount of content on each slide.


You might wonder why our first tip for visuals doesn’t actually involve any visual elements. The answer is that your visuals won’t tell any story if they are fighting for space on the slide.


So start by taking a look at each slide and deciding what you really need to say. Can you remove something altogether? Can you break the slide into two? Can you replace some text with an icon or other visual element? 


By airing out your content and giving the visuals space to work, you’re giving your audience a better chance at following your story and catching the key ideas.


Tip #2: Check your brand guidelines

From icons to illustrations and photography to infographics, there are a lot of ways to add visual elements to your presentation. But before you start swapping in pics, make sure that you are aligning your content with the brand. 


Effective visuals stories are cohesive – they feel like a thoughtful, self-contained story that is clear and easy to follow. If your visuals are inconsistent, with image types switching from realism to illustration and beyond, then each time your audience will be taken out of the moment and have to process something totally different. 


It’s a common way that presentations get derailed, but it’s an easy fix if you approach the task with consistency in mind from the beginning.


Update (02/24): we’ve revised this article to add some new details on visual storytelling


Still not sure how visual storytelling can work for you? Browse our blog for more storytelling and presentation design ideas.


Looking for more information about visual storytelling and beyond? Check out our resources for expert advice and tested strategies.



About the author

Danielle John is the founder of VerdanaBold. She has more than 25 years as an award-winning designer and creative lead, directing the visual expression and production of thousands of high-value new business pitches, C-level presentations and internal presentations for major global brands. When she’s not busy at VerdanaBold, she can be found antique shopping and spending time with her husband and two kids.


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