Every night before bed, I wash my face, brush my teeth, and scroll endlessly through Instagram--staring at photos of friends, family, and people I will never meet. Each picture speaks volumes--some would even say a thousand words. And while I love a good picture (and love great filters even more), there's a time when photos actually ruin what you're trying to say: in a presentation.

While I don't believe using PowerPoint is inherently detrimental to delivering a quality speech, there are instances when the temptation to add visuals to your words actually thwarts the overall experience. In particular, this happens when you're telling a story.

If you want to deliver an excellent speech, great storytelling is a must--and adding pictures to the slides to accompany the story is a critical mistake. Here's why and, more importantly, what to do instead.

Pictures in presentations ruin thousands of storytelling words.

I was recently listening to a man deliver a presentation. He was doing a great job including adding in some stories to engage his audience.

At one point, he told a story of his dream home. He did an exquisite job of describing it. He talked about how big it was, described the large picture windows, and the way the streets looked as you looked out those windows.

I found myself getting lost, in a good way, in imagining this home. And though he was describing his dream house, I was imagining my own dream house. It was a beautiful combination of his words and my images.

Then, suddenly, he posted a picture of it up on the screen. He said, "See, there it is. There's my dream house."

I was abruptly jolted back to reality as I stared at the image on the screen. In that moment all the work that he had been doing to create the image in my mind was wasted and I felt my relationship with the message change. I was no longer co-creating the story, it was being told to me.

The subconscious power of image-less storytelling.

Though it's tempting to add images to your stories--pictures of you as a child, photos of the people or places in your stories--doing so actually undercuts the most valuable part of your words at work.

When you tell a story during a presentation, the imagination of each listener creates the visuals to go along with it. They pull from meaningful material and experiences in their own lives to create this imagery so that, in the end, what the audience is left with is a meld of your words and their memories.

This is what gives storytelling its cognitive edge. This is how your message sticks and makes your presentations memorable. And it's this unique connection that is violated when you give them visual images instead of letting the audience create their own.

So, how do you effectively combine storytelling and presentations without relying on photographs?

Let them use their imagination.

When you tell a story in a presentation, use your words instead of relying on the images of a PowerPoint. Describe the scene: Who was there? What were they wearing? What was unique about the situation, the setting or the people involved?

Use specific details and let your senses guide you. You don't have to go overboard, but including a particular sight or smell will go a long way in your audience's imaginative process. Include how you were feeling, build up suspense, and leave them hanging on every word.

Use abstract photos instead of literal pictures. 

Certainly, I'm not suggesting you delete all the images from your presentations. Visuals do a lot to add interest to otherwise dull information.

When choosing images for the story portion of your presentation, use a nondescript background image. For example, I put my logo on the screen when I'm telling a story. The main attraction is me and my story and the images the audience creates.

Remember, when it comes to presentations and storytelling, PowerPoint is not the enemy. But images in the PowerPoint are. Delete the images. Use your words. It takes practice and it takes faith, but your presentations will be so much better as a result.

Published on: Oct 30, 2017