I often do the following exercise with groups (you can try it after you read it, but I’m not sure it will translate perfectly in writing).
“Close your eyes and clear your mind. I’m going to say a word. I want you to think about the word briefly then open your eyes. The word is apple.”
Once people open their eyes I ask them what they “saw” in their mind’s eye – the largest percentage of people “see” an apple, an apple tree, an apple pie, a Ipod, or Ipad (you get the idea). A relatively small percentage of people see A-P-P-L-E.
If you know how to spell the word and keep thinking about the word, you will see the letters – but for most people it won’t be the first thing they see.
Our brains aren’t word processors, they are image processors. (Notice two paragraphs up how our language gives us a hint to this fact – What do we “see”, “our minds-eye”, etc.)
And while some people are more visual than others, all of us have very powerful image processors between our ears.
So if this is true, how can we as leaders, communicators and influencers use this fact to be more effective for ourselves and others? That is the question of the rest of this article, so let’s explore this important question.
Fewer words on PowerPoint slides. Ever sat through a presentation with many (hundreds?) of word-laden slides? PowerPoint is called a visual aid, not a word aid, for a reason. Find ways to show your concepts and ideas in images, pictures and diagrams – not just words. Use visuals for clues and cues as well as for the direct message as well. Look at your slides as you think you are finished and ask how can I replace more words with pictures?
Create word pictures. The best communicators do this all the time. They use descriptive language; they engage the senses; they paint word pictures. Watch these masters and learn from them – use your senses in your language to engage mine.
Use more pictures in other communications. This is a big bucket! Here are a couple of examples of what I mean. Do you write a newsletter or a blog? Include more pictures. Are you trying to engage people on social media? Use carefully chosen pictures to help you make your point and be more memorable. Whenever you are communicating, think about how you can use more images.
Ask to see others’ pictures. We’ve talked about sharing your ideas in images, but what about others? If you want to engage others more fully, ask them about what they see. If you want to understand someone’s message, encourage them to share their image of the future. Doing this will help the communication and will build trust and relationships as well.
Use visuals to drive goal achievement. If we see images, then we need to anchor our goals and our future to clear images. Don’t just set goals, make them visual. Many tools and strategies exist to do this, from building vision boards to putting a picture of your perfect car on your refrigerator. The reason people do these things is because they work. And if they will work for an individual, they will work for a team – so as a leader think of ways to make your team’s goals more tangible through images.
This is just a short list – but it is a good start. When you begin any communication with others realize that you will be more effective if you appeal to and help the image processor at least as much as the word processor.