All Those Graphics Can Get Really Annoying

By Heather Baldwin

The use of graphics in a sales presentation is a lot like a woman’s makeup: the right amount in the right places creates a look that’s fabulous and memorable. But use too much, too little or the wrong type and you can wind up with an unsightly mess. Indeed, for all you’ve heard about the importance of using photos and charts to underscore your message and engage the audience, presenters must be careful they don’t overuse or misuse these tools. Lonnie Pacelli, president of Leading on the Edge International ( and author of The Truth About Getting Your Point Across (Pearson, 2006), says presenters should be cautious about using graphics in the following situations:

When presenting precise technical or financial information. In some cases, a chart is a great way to illustrate this kind of information. But if your degree of detail results in a chart that is too busy or too vague, stick to presenting just the data. Pacelli tells the story of a colleague who loved to use pie charts to show financial information. The problem was that her pie charts were often so jammed with data; the slices were too skinny to give the audience any meaning.

Where the picture and words are redundant. If your slide says, “Turn Left on Elm Street” and you have a picture of a car making a left-hand turn next to the text, ditch the picture. An image should embellish your message, not restate it.

When the picture doesn’t support the message you are trying to convey. If the picture will confuse an audience or leave a negative impression, get rid of it. For instance, if you’re emphasizing your great customer service with a photo of smiling agents, but there’s a bored-looking agent in the background and most of the desks are strewn with paper, delete the photo. You’ll wind up sending a mixed message, which is ultimately a negative message.

When the picture is of poor quality. Take a look at each image in your presentation – are they sharp and clear? Or are some of them a bit blurry and grainy? Using anything less than top-quality images, says Pacelli, is like going to a job interview wearing your best suit with sneakers. People will remember the sneakers.

When the picture is offensive. This shouldn’t need to be said, but it happens with enough frequency that Pacelli feels the point should be reiterated: Don’t use any image that might offend someone in your audience. If you’re not sure, ask a colleague. Or just leave it out altogether. Better to go without the image than offend an audience member.

When the slides will be viewed without your verbal presentation. Often, great images need some verbal cues from the speaker to make them understandable. With those verbal cues, the image becomes meaningful and its message memorable. Without those verbal cues, it remains just an image. So if you’re emailing slides to someone who hasn’t heard your presentation, take out any images that won’t make sense without a verbal explanation. As Pacelli notes, a picture of a gorilla with a few verbal cues may be worth 10,000 words; without those verbal cues, it’s just a picture that’s worth one word: gorilla.