Use Word Pictures to Make an Impression

By Heather Baldwin

Have you ever struggled to explain a technical concept to a nontechnical audience? If so, you probably know all too well the blank stares, glazed eyes and looks of total incomprehension that can greet you following your explanation. To ease the frustration on both sides, next time try using word pictures to get your point across, suggests Diane DiResta, president of Staten Island, NY-based DiResta Communications and author of Knockout Presentations: How to Deliver Your Message with Power, Punch and Pizzazz. Word pictures take everyday objects, sounds and tastes, and use them to paint an image in the mind of the listener.

Consider what one presenter did to explain Internet bandwidth at a presentation attended by DiResta. He could have talked about bits and bytes and signal transmissions; instead he took out a sheet of poster paper, rolled it into a cylinder and announced, “This is bandwidth,” recalls DiResta. “He then took a Coke bottle and dropped it down the tube. It fell through easily and he said, ‘That’s text.’ Next he put in a gallon bottle which wouldn’t go down without a lot of pushing and shoving. When it eventually went through, he explained, ‘That was graphics.’ He made it so clear, I finally understood bandwidth.”

Word pictures work well for nontechnical concepts, too. If you’re selling a product that cleans water contamination, don’t tell your potential client that five gallons of your solution can clean 25,000 square miles, tell them five gallons can clean an area the size of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Vermont combined. Or if you’re trying to drive home the scope of a financial problem, don’t simply tell your audience there’s a $10 billion deficit, show them what that deficit looks like: “If you took 10 billion $1 bills and spent one every second of every day, you wouldn’t run out for 317 years,” says DiResta. If you’re thinking, “Wow,” just imagine how your audience will react.