|A little about visual images and persuasive communication.
Why did Colin Powell, the US Secretary of the State, choose the ‘multimedia report’ genre for the final strike in his informational war against the UN? Satellite photos of Iraq secret objects, shots of trucks secretly transporting some cargo away before the arrival of UN inspectors, as well as striking diagrams and vivid computer models quickly spread over world’s largest TV chains. In few days’ time they become a global conscience phenomenon – as a weighty argument for the USA.
Mr. Powell used the language of visual images to communicate with the world community. It can be named a language of mass hitting. Unlike the alphanumeric culture language that dominated in our civilization for millenia, it addresses audiences of hundreds of millions people. It does not contain difficult terms, it requires almost no translation, it is TV-compatible, it is simple, vivid, and convincing.
Use of visual images is one of the most powerful methods of persuasive communication. Its importance has recently largely increased because, as we have seen in the chapter "presentations ROI", impressions and expectations are reality. A very perceptible reality, at that.
When a child does not know how to explain something in words, it says: ‘Wait a minute, I’ll draw a picture’. Unfortunately, as we accumulate the experience of using words, this genial method gets excluded from our practice. But when it comes back, the effect is extraordinary.
I will now give a few examples out of our experience in consulting. I don’t quote actual names and projects, but the essence is clear.
1. A high-level official makes a Parliamentary report. His aim is to persuade into passing a series of laws that would allow an important law, already passed, actually working. The theme is sophisticated and, frankly, rather boring – even for MPs. A typical presentation for such talk is an endless sequence of headers and theses. In this case, however, it was decided to do without them. Instead, an attractive digital image of a house was built (made of ‘transparent glass’) where the roof corresponded to the important law in question (it was labeled with the title of the law to add clarity), the foundation was the Constitution (which is the foundation of any law), and pillars supporting the roof were the already passed laws on the subject. Presenting the side view of the house we showed that several pillars missed – hence, the roof is unstable! Some more laws have to be passed urgently to make the building complete. Some explanations and specifications followed, but the main idea of the talk presented as a visual image stuck to memory. The speaker manifested his eager interest in the question, his will to explain, his respect towards the audience. The audience, in its turn, would not sleep, kept their attention focused on the talk and, eventually, passed the required laws during the same session.
2. A large company’s CIO presented the strategy of IT projects development for the Company. The problem was in an extreme unevenness of IT development in different departments of the Company. The CIO proposed to represent the IT support as a wheel the spokes of which corresponded to the company’s departments (HR, Marketing, Production, Finance, etc). The spoke length corresponded to the level of IT development in each direction (measured in points, from 0 to 9). The thesis to be proved was that for a successful interaction and information exchange between the departments, technology implementation in each field should be even. The absolute level (the length of a spoke) is less important than the uniformity (the equality of spoke lengths). Otherwise, the wheel would not roll at all, or would roll in a way that nobody likes. Indeed, one can hardly think of anything more convincing than a clumsily rolling wheel with spokes of different lengths. Thus the CIO could express his idea in a vivid way (which, certainly, will long be remembered by his audience) before proceeding to facts and details. His concept was approved by the Board unanimously.
3. In another large company, uncoordinated statements made by different managers and departments proved to impair the value of the Company’s shares as the seemed contradicting each other (sometimes simply due to different ways used to formulate the same idea). The PR Department had to eliminate all these problems. So, the PR Department decided to combine all of the Company’s informational activities under their control. The question arose on the best way to present this idea to the Board of Directors. The solution was found in a visual image. The Company was represented by a circle emitting bubbles representing informational statements in every direction. Bubbles would fly away, hit the picture borders and, eventually, strike the stock price curve. It was very difficult to predict the influence of every next bubble on the curve: some of them raised it, some lowered. This picture entitled ‘The Brownian Motion of Information’ represented the existing situation. Then the Company would emit the bubbles in one direction only; they would then hit the stock price curve from below pushing it up. Even when a negative external event took place and pressed the curve down, emitting three or four bubbles help to mend the situation to a certain extent. That was the essence of the reform. It only remained to explain what is to be done to make the new structure work.
These three examples show how efficient the visual language can be.
Back in 1940s, Carl Hovland, a representative of the Yale school of persuasive communication, singled out three stages of persuasion: Attention, Understanding, and Acceptance. A visual image attracts attention and is very easy to understand; hence, it gets very close to the completion of the triad, and your strong arguments must ensure the acceptance. If, in addition, the thing is done with quality and beauty (no resources should be spared on design and technology), the task shall be achieved.
CEO, Mercator group
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