Communicate Visually with Imagery

As we launched our Communicating Visually PowerPoint Design Series last week, we addressed the first principle of Communicating More with Less, which means using less text on screen during a presentation. So what do you put on your slides once you’ve eliminated those lengthy bullet lists? One alternative is to use imagery, such as photography, which brings us to…

Principle #2a: Communicate Visually with Imagery

Photographs are instrumental in connecting to the audience emotionally, to convey more than words can describe, or mark a transition point in a presentation. Imagery not only grabs attention and draws the viewer into your story more than words, but it also functions as a mnemonic device. The following slides illustrate this point:

Example 1: Text-filled slide

Example 2: Imagery enhances the speaker’s key points


Photo Credit: Gilles San Martin via compfight (CC BY)

Both examples describe the first stage of a butterfly’s life cycle, but you can imagine that the powerful photo with brief text in Slide 2 becomes a visual, mnemonic tool. The image immediately grabs attention and may help generate discussion from the audience as it artfully connects to them emotionally. The image enables the audience to experience what the speaker is describing (the egg stage), rather than just write notes about it.

You can also use an unexpected photo to inject personality into your lecture – such as in the example below1:


Photo credit: j_silla via compfight (CC BY)

Choose Photos Wisely–Consistency is Key

Remain consistent in the style when considering photos and graphics to incorporate into your slides. For example, if you choose a grainy black and white image for one slide, a striking nature shot for another, and then simple clipart for the next, the presentation will not feel cohesive. Also, consider whether an image feels outdated, looks professional, and clearly conveys your message. Remaining consistent in your imagery lends credence to your points.

Another opportunity to incorporate images into your lecture is to choose an image that does not literally state your point but conveys the feeling/emotion behind your point. Jesse Desjardins’s presentation “You Suck at PowerPoint!2” (yes, the title is abrasive, but is consistent with the tone of the presentation) exemplifies consistency in style while choosing images that convey the lighthearted and campy feeling of the presentation. The following slide from his presentation uses text and an image, along with the style of the image, to convey more than just what the words express.


Reference: Jesse Desjardins: You Suck at PowerPoint! (Slide #19) on slideshare

Resources for Photography

ALWAYS check the individual photography rights before using the image. Here are great resources to find images:


  1. Rethinking Global Cities – Enrique Penalosa. (n.d.). In UNC- Chapel Hill Department of City & Regional Planning. Retrieved January 18, 2015, from
  2. Desjardins, Jesse. (2010). You Suck at PowerPoint [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from