Is it a picture that paints a thousand words…or a word or two that paints a thousand pictures?
A few, well chosen words can evoke amazing images. There’s been some commentary in the blogosphere on this. For instance CreativityWorks’ post citing Churchill’s ‘iron curtain’ speech. Here in Australia, an equally evocative phrase, ‘stolen generation’, conjures up plenty of desperate and emotional images.
In this context, the link between words and images is summed up in one word itself: emotion. Photos, paintings, pictures – phrases, poetry, prose are all at their best when they convey emotion.
I don’t know, but emotion, to me, in both words and pictures means an ability to suggest. Stimulating the audience to conjure up the texture and dimension of the story themselves produces the strongest reaction. It’s the classic – tell me you’re funny, or tell me a joke – maxim. The inclusion of involvement is the imperative. Without it, life is a lecture, with it, it is an adventure.
The images we create from certain words are individual, private even; but often, when the suggestion, the emotion, is extremely powerful, the images have the commonality of an ‘archetype’, and as such can be immensely powerful, binding us all together, collectively, in the human condition, producing the equivalent of a profound, ‘we understand’.
Even words that don’t on the face of it ‘paint pictures’, can, used in the right way, in the right context, be dramatic and a driving force. Think about Obama’s ‘yes we can’.
But all too often words are trotted out ad infinitum, machine-gun style, too many words, or the same words delivering, basically, the same information, in the same way. A lazy, fearful, vacuous soup where all too many business presentations, unfortunately, reside.
Words are about communication. If we are to communicate well, we need to pay words more respect. The famous line ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’, is perhaps the most disrespectful and inaccurate use of words, in history. Words cause wars.
Equally, words also deliver hope and without them and the connection they provide, we wouldn’t even be here.
Words, to me, exist to paint pictures, so I think we should all learn to paint with them. Some days we will use words to create modern art, some days to paint impressionist landscapes, other days to measure out exact technical drawings or precise diagrams, but never to create grey, fuzzy photocopies.
In business, this means don’t tap out PowerPoint slides full of words. Use words carefully, parsimoniously. Try alternatives for words that are overused, words that have lost their shine from the battering of the bandwagon they’ve been on.
Imagine, for a moment, actually being the word ‘agenda’. Your very soul would be so dull these days, you’ve been ‘photocopied’ so many times; used to the point of becoming almost invisible. The same goes, it’s a pity to say, if you were any one of the words: ‘objective’, ‘leverage’ or ‘strategy’. You just don’t evoke the same passion, imagery or meaning that you once did.
So here’s some practical food for thought. Say, for example, you’re in a digital camera manufacturer’s sales division and you’re in the audience at some swanky, exotic location for your annual sales conference. The first slide in the presentation on screen reads ‘objective 2010 – increase sales by 15%’. I’m guessing here…but I don’t think I hear your adrenaline pumping in your eagerness to hit that mark’?
So, instead, what if the first slide had read ‘what are we going do this year?… make 9 million more people say ‘cheese’ with a Sony’. Now there’s an evocative image! Doesn’t that involve and inspire you a bit more? What about the ‘agenda’ slide? How about ‘a million smiles in the making…’
Understand? Get…the picture?
Words. They are at their best when they paint pictures, so for your next presentation, why not try learning to paint!