Is a picture worth a thousand words?
Although I am a lover of the written word and can devour books, when it comes to professional communications, I think a good picture can be worth a thousand words.
In today’s world, images are becoming more and more important, and good visuals and message presentation can make a huge difference when it comes to making your message stand amongst hundreds (think of your stakeholders’ inbox..). Research shows that we retain far more through visual aids than simple verbal form. From the simplest (like underlying the important words) to more sophisticated diagrams (like process flows or smart graphics), good visuals help make abstract and complex concepts visible and concrete, leading to better understanding and response from the audience. In fact, not only do they help you engage and persuade your audience, they help your very own thought process by forcing you to organize information logically, and represent and articulate clearly what you want to say.
With the vast amount and complexity of information that need to be shared, Project Managers can dramatically increase their audience’s response by using good visual presentation to convey information. As a PM, you constantly sell your project to stakeholders, and a lot of project information can be enhanced through visuals, whether it is a well formatted, easy-to-read project status or a clear overview of your project timeline.
Why making it look good matters…
No matter how we would like to be fair and not judge a book by its cover, first impressions do count. That’s how we are; it goes with the first time we meet someone, the split second it takes us to decide to switch TV channels, the quick glance we give a CV before binning it, the 90 seconds we need to decide a home is perfect for us. The same principle applies to our daily work communications, and using good visuals can tip the balance in the favour of your message getting read rather than ignored or glazed over. Where poor presentation and lengthy documents can bore readers to death, good visuals can make your stakeholders pay attention to your communications.
Quality of message presentation (whether it is an email or a set of slides) is not only a direct reflection of the author, it also tells the audience what we think about them. If we want people to take the time and effort to read or listen to us, we have to make the time and effort to render our communications accessible.
…. and why it’s not enough:
Of course having pretty slides and professional-looking sleek documents is not quite enough – they may impress at first and audiences might wow at your graphics skills and Powerpoint/KeyNotes mastery, but you do have to show (and know) content. If good content can be destroyed by poor presentation, a pretty package cannot hide an ugly gift (for long). Good presentation is there to carry the message, never to replace it. Unnecessary, complicated, overworked graphics and animations, don’t only take too much time to produce, they will actually distract your audience from the main subject. Using good visual presentation does not mean turning into a graphic designer: it’s about conveying in a clear and simple way a message, and help the audience read and understand that message.
Remember to get the balancing act right…
Content and format go hand-in-hand and complement each other in a ying-yang kind of way, and you need to weigh the time you spend on format against the objectives and the importance of your communications. For example, it is worth spending time doing a really good presentation of your project (which will be used time and time again and seen by a large audience), but don’t labour over making fancy resource utilisation graphs if you’re the only one using them.
… and keep things clear and simple:
- Use what’s available to you: there is no need to go on a graphic design course to produce powerful visuals. There are many visual aids available to us and today’s standard office softwares offer a vast choice of ready-made graphics, templates and colour schemes.
- Don’t ditch text: words are still important and there is no point in trying to replace all text with visuals. Pay attention to the language you use and choose meaningful and focused words rather than obscure symbols.
- Give your documents breathing space: whether you produce a project status report or a project presentation, think of your audience’s ability to read and understand what you’re trying to say. Don’t overcrowd your documents with lots of graphics and text and make sure there is plenty of white space to rest the eye on.