Creating Pictures For Audience Impact

by Stephen Boyd | March 31, 2004

An important way to keep the audience listening to you is to help the audience see mental pictures as you speak. We tend to think in pictures. For example, if I say "river," you probably will visualize a specific river familiar to you. So it behooves the speaker to develop material that will paint pictures in the minds of the audience.

An important way of doing this is through the use of stories. When you begin with, "On my way to work a week ago I saw…," you have begun a picture for the audience. As you answer the W questions--Why? What? When? Where?--you give color and richness to the picture in the minds of your listeners.

Visuals help with creating pictures. These can be drawings, photographs, cutaways, and props. Keep a camera with you in the car so you can make a literal picture of a point you might someday make. Then you will better describe the picture you want a future audience to see. When you use Power Point, an occasional relevant photograph on a slide between copy or graphs can help the listener better visualize what you are saying.

Vivid description is an excellent way to see pictures. If you say, "Cedar Creek is a great place to fish," you impart information but probably not a picture that will stick in the minds of the audience. Say instead: "Cedar Creek is a great place to fish because the water ripples across a variety of rock formations. Several mature trees hang over places in the creek, producing shade which invites small mouth and redeye fish to gather." This will put a strong impression in the listener’s mind of what Cedar Creek looks like.

A final way to create pictures is through an animated delivery style. As you relate information to the audience, use gestures that describe and reinforce what you are saying. If your hands are grasping a lectern or folder, the audience may not "see" what you are talking about. However, if you describe with hand movements the size of the fish or how large the deer’s antlers were, the audience is more inclined to hold those images in their minds. When you use words like big, tall, left, right, or huge, accompany these words with appropriate gestures.

A good way to keep from being a dull speaker is to create pictures in the minds of your audience.

About the Author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

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