PowerPoint: A Great Vehicle for Visual Communication

There’s an old adage: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Is it? Well, maybe the statement’s a bit too precise, but the general idea is right on the money!

Psychologist Jerome Bruner of NYU has described studies that show people only remember about 10% of what they hear, 20% of what they read, but 80% of what they see and do.1 Thus, we humans are truly visual creatures.

A chart (so you remember!):














So why is this data significant? It’s significant because now we can fully appreciate the importance of seeing content in PowerPoint presentations.

Luckily for us, PowerPoint makes it easy to format content so that it’s “seeable.” It allows us to take nonvisual content and present it in a visual form that:

a)      Makes the information more engaging

b)      Increases memory and retention.

…which is just what we want as presenters and educators!

Take, for example, the following idea: Only 2.5% of Earth’s water is fresh. Of the slides below, which do you think better presents the fact, (1) or (2)?

























Without a doubt, the second. Both the material (water) and the relative quantities of the water types (little freshwater v. lots of saltwater) are visualized by the graphic.

All-too-often, presenters opt for a collection of sleep-inducing bullet points when a simple graphic (such as above) can increase audience retention by a factor of four! Charts, graphs, and diagrams marry the visual and the verbal to create an entirely new path toward understanding—a way of “seeing” meaning.

One way of creating “seeable” meaning is through a powerful, easy-to-use tool called SmartArt. Office’s SmartArt graphics are pre-made, editable diagrams that allow you to visually communicate information instead of using text. Using a simple SmartArt graphic, you can “go beyond the bullets.”

For instance, look below for the simple bullet list outlining the life cycle of a chicken:














And now look at the life cycle illustrated through SmartArt:














The cyclical nature of life is clearly conveyed in the second. (And you avoid the problem of having to decide which comes first…) SmartArt not only helps people remember; it can also provide a more accurate representation of a concept or idea.

For a tutorial on how to use SmartArt, refer to the earlier blog post Using SmartArt in Microsoft Office… and always remember: “Go beyond the bullets!”


1Jerome Bruner, as cited by Paul Martin Lester in “Syntactic Theory of Visual Communication”


Lissy RobieA former college track star (boasting a sub 5 minute mile) and high school science teacher, Elizabeth Robie is passionate about education and technology. In her spare time, she enjoys running, playing with her dog Seamus, and watching Duke basketball religiously. At Learn iT! Elizabeth teaches the entire MS Office Suite.