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The Power of Visual Communication


Is a picture really worth a thousand words? In this age of
multimedia and mass communication, it often seems so. Recent
research supports the idea that visual communication can be
more powerful than verbal communication, suggesting in many
instances that people learn and retain information that is
presented to them visually much better than that which is only
provided verbally. These are welcome findings to anyone whose
work involves using visual presentations to persuade or instruct
others. Even more welcome is the news that today, presenters
have more resources than ever available to them for creating
and displaying the most visually rich programs possible.
“Something is happening. We are
becoming a visually mediated society. For
many, understanding of the world is being
accomplished, not through words, but by
reading images.”
—Paul Martin Lester,
“Syntactic Theory of Visual Communication”

The connection
between seeing
and remembering
Why do people
remember what they
see so much more
readily than what they
hear? One recent
article on the subject
describes the evidently
limitless capacity of
long-term memory to
store concepts and
then points to studies
that seem to indicate
that “Pictures have a
direct route to longterm memory, each
image storing its own
information as a
coherent ‘chunk’ or
concept.” 5 If this is so,
then it follows that the
more visual content in
a presentation, the
more memorable the
information will be
over the long term.

Communicating effectively in the
visual age
Visual communication is everywhere today, from
electronic media like Web pages and television screens
to environmental contexts such as road signs and retail
displays. As the National Education Association has
pointed out, ”Western civilization has become more
dependent than ever on visual culture, visual artifacts,
and visual communication as a mode of discourse and a
means of developing a social and cultural identity.” 1
That’s an interesting observation, but what’s even more
intriguing is that there is evidence to suggest that people
not only communicate visually more than ever, they also
communicate better when they communicate visually. This
is an important revelation to those who create
presentations for work or education and who want to
make those presentations as compelling and effective as
possible. This paper is designed to help presenters make
the most of this information by describing the evidence
for the power of visual communication, identifying the
key components of effective visual presentations and
discussing the technologies that make it possible to use
these components to craft more successful presentations.

The case for visual communication
There is plenty of evidence from formal research studies
to indicate that communication that has a visual
component can be far more effective than communication
that does not. Here are just a few examples.
The psychologist Jerome Bruner of New York University
has described studies that show that people only
remember 10% of what they hear and 20% of what they
read, but about 80 percent of what they see and do. 2
Training materials used by the federal government cite
studies indicating that the retention of information three
days after a meeting or other event is six times greater
when information is presented by visual and oral means
than when the information is presented by the spoken
word alone. The same materials also cite studies by

educational researchers suggesting that 83% of human
learning occurs visually. 3
Researchers at the Wharton School of Business compared
visual presentations and purely verbal presentations and
found that presenters using visual language were
considered more persuasive by their audiences, 67% of
whom felt that presenters who combined visual and
verbal components were more persuasive. 4

The intersection of visual and verbal
Interestingly, all of the examples of the effectiveness of
visual communication previously cited indicate that while
purely visual communication is more effective than solely
verbal communication, the most compelling
communication combines both visual and nonvisual
content. This is precisely the type of content for which
today’s presentation software works so well. Applications
like Microsoft® PowerPoint enable users to take nonvisual
content and present it in a visual form that makes it more
engaging. For instance, you could take the verbal
information from the first research example and present
it visually like this:

Oral and Visual Information: Percentage Retained
100
80
60
40
20
0
Oral

Visual

Visual + Oral

Source: Jerome Bruner, as cited by Paul Martin Lester in
“Syntactic Theory of Visual Communication”

2
Guide to Projector Resolution
Level of Detail

Optimum Resolution

Straightforward text

800 x 600 (SVGA)

Spreadsheets

1024 x 768 (XGA)

Technical drawings, schematics

1280 x 1024 (SXGA)

Digital video

1280 x 720 or
1365 x 768 (WXGA)

Visual treatments of written material

The components of visual
communication
The chart on page two is an example of one of the key
components of effective visual communication: a visual
interpretation of information (in this case, a chart). Other
components include visual treatments of written material,
color as an element in presentation material, and purely
visual material.

Adding a visual element to nonvisual communication can
be even simpler than creating a chart or other graphic.
The very act of taking an oral presentation, or a lecture,
and putting key points into PowerPoint form is one of the
most basic ways of adding the visual to the verbal.
Once an oral statement is on paper, simply taking a few
sentences or phrases and adding bullets or color to them
adds yet more visual interest to the content—like this:

Verbal

Information Retained
Studies show that people remember 10% of what
they hear and 20% of what they read, but about
80 percent of what they see and do.

Visual interpretations of information
Charts, diagrams, tables, graphs and other visual
interpretations of material bring together the visual and
the verbal to add another dimension to the material and
create an entirely new path toward understanding—or
“seeing”—its meaning.
As the researcher and academician Edward R. Tufte has
observed, “To envision information—and what bright and
splendid visions can result—is to work at the intersection
of image, word, number, art.” 6 Color also serves this
purpose of adding another dimension, as discussed later
in this paper.
Maximizing presentation effectiveness
A presenter who uses visual interpretations of information
can maximize presentation effectiveness by ensuring that
the visual elements are presented as clearly and readably
as possible. The more detailed and complex the
information being presented, the more important this is.
Choosing the appropriate projector is critical; a digital
projector with a relatively high resolution is the best
choice for presenting a high level of detail as clearly as
possible.

Verbal + Visual

Information Retained
Studies
• 10%
• 20%
• 80%

show that people remember:
of what they hear
of what they read
of what they see and do

Color
In the example we just saw, the color red is used to
highlight the most significant point in the written material,
adding another visual dimension to the presentation.
Studies show that color can have a tremendous effect.
According to researchers, color visuals increase the
willingness to read 80% and can positively affect
motivation and participation to the same degree. 7
Color also accounts for 60% of acceptance or rejection
of an object,8 making it a critical factor in the success of
any visual presentation.
Maximizing the impact of color
Presentation software such as PowerPoint enables
presenters to create vivid color images, but that’s only
part of the picture. Once the images have been created
on the computer, the challenge is to ensure that the same

3
colors that appear on the monitor appear on the screen
during presentation. If not, the results could be disastrous.
Bright red arrows may appear as muted pinkish images,
realistic flesh tones may seem bluish and so on. To avoid
this, look for a projector that is designed specifically to
provide accurate color matching and to project bright,
true color images. HP has incorporated innovations into
its projectors that are expressly intended to improve color
matching. These DLP (digital light processing) devices
include dual color wheels to optimize images and optical
coatings and color algorithms to deliver richer color.

The Spectrum of Verbal

Visual Communication
Purely Visual
Written material visually transformed
(charts, graphs, etc.)

Written word treated visually
(bullets, color, etc.)
Verbal, but written
Purely verbal (oral)

presentations, “and if a variety of moving bullets, movies
and/or sounds play simultaneously (or at least so quick
as to be undifferentiable)…people will pay attention to
the multimedia and ignore the content completely.” 9

Summary
The ability to use visuals to communicate more powerfully
is an invaluable resource for today’s presenters. With a
wealth of choices of components to incorporate into
presentations and with sophisticated new tools for
creating and displaying these materials, they are well
equipped to make their presentations more dynamic and
compelling than ever before.

Want to know more?
At HP we understand that knowledge is the most
important business tool. Visit www.hp.com/go/
printingandimaging for our dynamic repository of
informative white papers, business cases and hands-on
training resources. You’ll find everything you need to
know to understand what’s going on in your printing and
imaging environment and what you can do to get the
most from your investments.

Purely visual material
One of the advantages of an application like PowerPoint
is that the user can import purely visual content into a
presentation. Software architectures such as QuickTime
are designed to enable seamless delivery of video clips
from a variety of types of formats into PowerPoint. And
static images such as photographs can also be displayed
in PowerPoint through formats such as GIF, JPG and BMP.
Theoretically, a presentation could incorporate all of the
elements on the continuum of verbal to visual
communication, such as a PowerPoint presentation that
includes:
• simple written statements on slides

Notes
1 ”Thriving in Academe: A Rationale for Visual Communication,”
National Education Association Advocate Online, December
2001.
2 Paul Martin Lester, “Syntactic Theory of Visual Communication,”
California State University at Fullerton, 1994–1996.
3 ”Presenting Effective Presentations with Visual Aids,” U.S.
Department of Labor, OSHA Office of Training and Education,
May 1996.
4 ”Effectiveness of Visual Language Presentations,” MacroVU,
Inc., www.macrovu.com.
5 ”DIMP: The Use of Images to Support Instruction and
Presentations,” Technical Advisory Service for Images (TASI),
2002–2004.

• visual treatments of written statements

6 Edward R. Tufte, Envisioning Information, Cheshire, Connecticut:
Graphics Press, 1990.

• charts, graphs and other interpretations of verbal
material

7 Ronald E. Green: “The Persuasive Properties of Color,”

Marketing Communications, October 1989.


• imported visuals such as video clips or still
photographs

8 Morton Walker, The Power of Color, Avery Publishing Group,
1993.

• live commentary as the presentation is being made

9 Michael A. Russell and Walter M. Shriner, “Creating Effective
PowerPoint Presentations,” Mt. Hood Community College,
Gresham, Oregon, 2001.

The wisdom of including every single element in one
presentation might be questionable, though. “Remember,
you want the audience’s attention to stay focused on the
content,” cautions one guide to creating effective
© 2004 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, LP. The information contained herein is subject to change
without notice. The only warranties for HP products and services are set forth in the express warranty statements
accompanying such products and services. Nothing herein should be construed as constituting an additional
warranty. HP shall not be liable for technical or editorial errors or omissions contained herein. Microsoft is a
registered US trademark of Microsoft Corporation.

Visit us on the web at www.hp.com/go/printingandimaging
5982-7488ENUS, 07/2004 (T7B)

4

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Power of-visual-communication-hp

  • 1. The Power of Visual Communication Is a picture really worth a thousand words? In this age of multimedia and mass communication, it often seems so. Recent research supports the idea that visual communication can be more powerful than verbal communication, suggesting in many instances that people learn and retain information that is presented to them visually much better than that which is only provided verbally. These are welcome findings to anyone whose work involves using visual presentations to persuade or instruct others. Even more welcome is the news that today, presenters have more resources than ever available to them for creating and displaying the most visually rich programs possible.
  • 2. “Something is happening. We are becoming a visually mediated society. For many, understanding of the world is being accomplished, not through words, but by reading images.” —Paul Martin Lester, “Syntactic Theory of Visual Communication” The connection between seeing and remembering Why do people remember what they see so much more readily than what they hear? One recent article on the subject describes the evidently limitless capacity of long-term memory to store concepts and then points to studies that seem to indicate that “Pictures have a direct route to longterm memory, each image storing its own information as a coherent ‘chunk’ or concept.” 5 If this is so, then it follows that the more visual content in a presentation, the more memorable the information will be over the long term. Communicating effectively in the visual age Visual communication is everywhere today, from electronic media like Web pages and television screens to environmental contexts such as road signs and retail displays. As the National Education Association has pointed out, ”Western civilization has become more dependent than ever on visual culture, visual artifacts, and visual communication as a mode of discourse and a means of developing a social and cultural identity.” 1 That’s an interesting observation, but what’s even more intriguing is that there is evidence to suggest that people not only communicate visually more than ever, they also communicate better when they communicate visually. This is an important revelation to those who create presentations for work or education and who want to make those presentations as compelling and effective as possible. This paper is designed to help presenters make the most of this information by describing the evidence for the power of visual communication, identifying the key components of effective visual presentations and discussing the technologies that make it possible to use these components to craft more successful presentations. The case for visual communication There is plenty of evidence from formal research studies to indicate that communication that has a visual component can be far more effective than communication that does not. Here are just a few examples. The psychologist Jerome Bruner of New York University has described studies that show that people only remember 10% of what they hear and 20% of what they read, but about 80 percent of what they see and do. 2 Training materials used by the federal government cite studies indicating that the retention of information three days after a meeting or other event is six times greater when information is presented by visual and oral means than when the information is presented by the spoken word alone. The same materials also cite studies by educational researchers suggesting that 83% of human learning occurs visually. 3 Researchers at the Wharton School of Business compared visual presentations and purely verbal presentations and found that presenters using visual language were considered more persuasive by their audiences, 67% of whom felt that presenters who combined visual and verbal components were more persuasive. 4 The intersection of visual and verbal Interestingly, all of the examples of the effectiveness of visual communication previously cited indicate that while purely visual communication is more effective than solely verbal communication, the most compelling communication combines both visual and nonvisual content. This is precisely the type of content for which today’s presentation software works so well. Applications like Microsoft® PowerPoint enable users to take nonvisual content and present it in a visual form that makes it more engaging. For instance, you could take the verbal information from the first research example and present it visually like this: Oral and Visual Information: Percentage Retained 100 80 60 40 20 0 Oral Visual Visual + Oral Source: Jerome Bruner, as cited by Paul Martin Lester in “Syntactic Theory of Visual Communication” 2
  • 3. Guide to Projector Resolution Level of Detail Optimum Resolution Straightforward text 800 x 600 (SVGA) Spreadsheets 1024 x 768 (XGA) Technical drawings, schematics 1280 x 1024 (SXGA) Digital video 1280 x 720 or 1365 x 768 (WXGA) Visual treatments of written material The components of visual communication The chart on page two is an example of one of the key components of effective visual communication: a visual interpretation of information (in this case, a chart). Other components include visual treatments of written material, color as an element in presentation material, and purely visual material. Adding a visual element to nonvisual communication can be even simpler than creating a chart or other graphic. The very act of taking an oral presentation, or a lecture, and putting key points into PowerPoint form is one of the most basic ways of adding the visual to the verbal. Once an oral statement is on paper, simply taking a few sentences or phrases and adding bullets or color to them adds yet more visual interest to the content—like this: Verbal Information Retained Studies show that people remember 10% of what they hear and 20% of what they read, but about 80 percent of what they see and do. Visual interpretations of information Charts, diagrams, tables, graphs and other visual interpretations of material bring together the visual and the verbal to add another dimension to the material and create an entirely new path toward understanding—or “seeing”—its meaning. As the researcher and academician Edward R. Tufte has observed, “To envision information—and what bright and splendid visions can result—is to work at the intersection of image, word, number, art.” 6 Color also serves this purpose of adding another dimension, as discussed later in this paper. Maximizing presentation effectiveness A presenter who uses visual interpretations of information can maximize presentation effectiveness by ensuring that the visual elements are presented as clearly and readably as possible. The more detailed and complex the information being presented, the more important this is. Choosing the appropriate projector is critical; a digital projector with a relatively high resolution is the best choice for presenting a high level of detail as clearly as possible. Verbal + Visual Information Retained Studies • 10% • 20% • 80% show that people remember: of what they hear of what they read of what they see and do Color In the example we just saw, the color red is used to highlight the most significant point in the written material, adding another visual dimension to the presentation. Studies show that color can have a tremendous effect. According to researchers, color visuals increase the willingness to read 80% and can positively affect motivation and participation to the same degree. 7 Color also accounts for 60% of acceptance or rejection of an object,8 making it a critical factor in the success of any visual presentation. Maximizing the impact of color Presentation software such as PowerPoint enables presenters to create vivid color images, but that’s only part of the picture. Once the images have been created on the computer, the challenge is to ensure that the same 3
  • 4. colors that appear on the monitor appear on the screen during presentation. If not, the results could be disastrous. Bright red arrows may appear as muted pinkish images, realistic flesh tones may seem bluish and so on. To avoid this, look for a projector that is designed specifically to provide accurate color matching and to project bright, true color images. HP has incorporated innovations into its projectors that are expressly intended to improve color matching. These DLP (digital light processing) devices include dual color wheels to optimize images and optical coatings and color algorithms to deliver richer color. The Spectrum of Verbal Visual Communication Purely Visual Written material visually transformed (charts, graphs, etc.) Written word treated visually (bullets, color, etc.) Verbal, but written Purely verbal (oral) presentations, “and if a variety of moving bullets, movies and/or sounds play simultaneously (or at least so quick as to be undifferentiable)…people will pay attention to the multimedia and ignore the content completely.” 9 Summary The ability to use visuals to communicate more powerfully is an invaluable resource for today’s presenters. With a wealth of choices of components to incorporate into presentations and with sophisticated new tools for creating and displaying these materials, they are well equipped to make their presentations more dynamic and compelling than ever before. Want to know more? At HP we understand that knowledge is the most important business tool. Visit www.hp.com/go/ printingandimaging for our dynamic repository of informative white papers, business cases and hands-on training resources. You’ll find everything you need to know to understand what’s going on in your printing and imaging environment and what you can do to get the most from your investments. Purely visual material One of the advantages of an application like PowerPoint is that the user can import purely visual content into a presentation. Software architectures such as QuickTime are designed to enable seamless delivery of video clips from a variety of types of formats into PowerPoint. And static images such as photographs can also be displayed in PowerPoint through formats such as GIF, JPG and BMP. Theoretically, a presentation could incorporate all of the elements on the continuum of verbal to visual communication, such as a PowerPoint presentation that includes: • simple written statements on slides Notes 1 ”Thriving in Academe: A Rationale for Visual Communication,” National Education Association Advocate Online, December 2001. 2 Paul Martin Lester, “Syntactic Theory of Visual Communication,” California State University at Fullerton, 1994–1996. 3 ”Presenting Effective Presentations with Visual Aids,” U.S. Department of Labor, OSHA Office of Training and Education, May 1996. 4 ”Effectiveness of Visual Language Presentations,” MacroVU, Inc., www.macrovu.com. 5 ”DIMP: The Use of Images to Support Instruction and Presentations,” Technical Advisory Service for Images (TASI), 2002–2004. • visual treatments of written statements 6 Edward R. Tufte, Envisioning Information, Cheshire, Connecticut: Graphics Press, 1990. • charts, graphs and other interpretations of verbal material 7 Ronald E. Green: “The Persuasive Properties of Color,” Marketing Communications, October 1989. • imported visuals such as video clips or still photographs 8 Morton Walker, The Power of Color, Avery Publishing Group, 1993. • live commentary as the presentation is being made 9 Michael A. Russell and Walter M. Shriner, “Creating Effective PowerPoint Presentations,” Mt. Hood Community College, Gresham, Oregon, 2001. The wisdom of including every single element in one presentation might be questionable, though. “Remember, you want the audience’s attention to stay focused on the content,” cautions one guide to creating effective © 2004 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, LP. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice. The only warranties for HP products and services are set forth in the express warranty statements accompanying such products and services. Nothing herein should be construed as constituting an additional warranty. HP shall not be liable for technical or editorial errors or omissions contained herein. Microsoft is a registered US trademark of Microsoft Corporation. Visit us on the web at www.hp.com/go/printingandimaging 5982-7488ENUS, 07/2004 (T7B) 4