Most of us hate preparing presentations. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 74% of adults suffer from speech anxiety.
Dan Roam, author of Show and Tell and The Back of the Napkin says there’s a good reason many of us fear public speaking. It’s because words aren’t the best way to express ideas and says the solution is to talk less and draw more. By using visuals, we can not only make presentations more powerful but transform ourselves into better public speakers.
While most of us prepare for a speech by writing out the words we want to say and attempting to memorize them, Roam says this technique is fundamentally wrong and is the reason most of us are anxious about presenting our ideas in public.
"One of the biggest concerns people who are anxious about public speaking have is what’s going to happen if I forget what I wanted to say," says Roam. "Our brains are pretty poor at remembering long strings of words, especially in a stressful situation like being on stage," he explains.
Our words may fail us, but, Roam says, pictures can serve as powerful reminders to our brain to recall information. Why? Well, because it turns out our visual recall is much better than our verbal recall.
"Words on a page are a very new, abstract concept in our history as people," says Roam. "We've only had written words for 5,000 years, but the oldest drawings found in the caves of Chauvet, France, are 32,000 years old."
The next time you're making a speech or presenting an idea, try one of these visual techniques:
Joshua Foer's book Moonwalking with Einstein popularized the idea of the memory palace—the process of encoding information (such as talking points for a speech) into a series of visual images. These images are then mentally arranged within an imagined space called the "memory palace."
Roam recommends writing out a basic outline of the talking points in your presentation, then imagine you're walking through a place you know well and make a connection between the point you want to make and the items you see. He gives the example of a presentation on technology.
Say, you first want to talk about Apple. You may imagine stepping inside your house and seeing a bowl of apples on the table. If the next thing you want to talk about is rapid change, perhaps you imagine a clock above the bowl of apples that’s spinning fast. When you begin your speech, you step back into your memory palace and visualize these cues, allowing them to guide you through your presentation.
The second way to use visuals to aids to remember a presentation is to find one or two simple pictures that illustrate each of the important talking points of your presentation. You can keep these images private or incorporate them into your presentation, showing them to the audience to better engage them in your talk.
Roam says the most powerful live presentation tool is to draw as you speak. Even if you aren't the world's best artist, drawing simple stick figures or circles fully activates the visual and the verbal mind and will have your audience glued to your presentation. "Lead with the eye and the mind will follow," says Roam.