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Using Symbols In Your Presentation

Apr 25, 2008
"Everything in life cannot be grasped by the logic-centered left brain." D.T.Suzuki

Sometimes you need more than your own dynamic self to get your message across. Just standing there and talking is not very creative and not much of a strategy. You might be a great speaker or think you're a great speaker, but don't take any chances that you might miss reaching your audience. Especially if you're giving out complex and/or technical information. To be as effective as possible in your presentation, you will need unique tools to motivate your audience and to implant the desire in them to take the action you desire for them. A highly effective tool in any presentation is the use of SYMBOLS.

A symbol, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, is: "Something that represents something else by association, resemblance or convention, especially a material object used to represent something invisible." You see a red stop sign. What do you do? You know.

The reason humans created symbols in the first place, according to Carl Jung, was to try to understand human nature beyond language. In his investigation of various, unrelated cultures, Jung found a similarity in the images - or symbols - they displayed. Though fewer and less complex than the plethora of symbols we see in today's culture, they nonetheless evoked in those ancient people a universal meaning that resonated in each person.

The symbols - or familiar images - of today evoke such a familiar message to most of us, that we all "get" the message as soon as we see them. McDonald's golden arches, for example. And what about the apple on the phones or laptops you're using today? Granted, these are both very commercial symbols, but nonetheless are images most of us can instantly relate to.

So what about symbols in your presentation? Just as stated above, symbols can quickly "cut to the chase" - making complicated concepts instantly understandable to the audience. Symbols can bridge the chasm between a cutting-edge innovation and a novice audience. Symbols can blaze a pathway deep into the psyche by building upon constructs that already exist in the mind -- things we already know. Symbols grab the attention of your audience and, once you've got them, these images will also help them remember and retain your message.

What makes symbols so resonant anyway?

It's all in the brain. Not just the logical left side, but in the right side of our brain - the more imaginative side. The right side is the side the brain uses to process symbols. When the right brain is stimulated by the symbols shown during your presentation, the audience wakes up. They quickly grasp the big picture. Symbols plus language (your carefully-thought-out speech which the left brain is busy processing) equal whole-brain understanding from the audience. This simultaneous brain usage generates optimal assimilation of the ideas and message you put forth.
How do you use symbols?

Here's how: When you give a PowerPoint presentation or draw on a flip chart or a white board, try showing images (symbols), not just words. If you already use some non-verbal images, add more. These images will appeal to the right and the left brain and constitute a retentive whole. Adding more visuals to your slides will get and keep your audience's attention. Without having to read slide after slide loaded with words, symbols will cut through the blah blah blah and the audience will "get it" much faster.

So what type of symbols would you use? As an example, what type of symbol do you think would denote success? Success, of course, may have a specific meaning to some of us, but generally speaking, there are universal symbols which would evoke the idea of success. Symbols such as: a pile of money, a rainbow and pot of gold, an audience smiling and vigorously applauding, an applause-o-meter reaching 10 or whatever the top number is. An Olympic gold medal. On the opposite end, what symbol would denote failure? Sadness? Stress? Disharmony?

For your own presentation, tailor your images to your message. Use pictures, graphs, flowcharts, diagrams. Animation. It's all there on the internet, ready to help you capture and motivate your audience.
About the Author
The Henderson Group trains and coaches business professionals in the art of communication and presentation through our experiential methodology. Since 1990, The Henderson Group has helped Fortune 500 companies worldwide improve employee productivity and business results through the development of communication skills. You can find us online at SpeakFearlessly.net and HendersonGroup.com or Attend A Workshop
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