Over the past few months, Warren and I have shared some thoughts (and hopefully some useful tips) about presentations, and visualising data. Today, I’d like to suggest that one of the most valuable tools you’ll use in your work isn’t something you learned on a course, and isn’t an object provided by your employer (if you have one) – it’s a camera.
Now, if you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that both Warren and I feel that improving the quality of your images – whether graphical figures, or illustrative pictures – can have a huge impact on the efficacy of your argument. But while the internet has revolutionised our ability to access images, I think it’s well worth considering pictures you can take yourself.
We’ve all seen the stock images of well groomed people in suits, shaking hands in airy, light-filled offices.
But who wouldn’t prefer to see the meeting they’re actually in?
It’s not unusual for me to dig out my camera when I want to use images to illustrate a concept in a presentation. Here are a couple of examples.
When working with researchers or analysts, they often find it tricky to step back from the detail of their work, in order for them to decide what the key messages are, and how best to present them. In order to communicate this message, I decided to use the metaphor of a recipe. If you wanted to create a tasty dish, it would be a mistake to use all of the ingredients at your disposal.
You need to trust your experience and expertise to pick out the really important stuff.
Thank God, a custard and kiwi-free tomato sauce.
As Warren has described previously, there is something of a magical (and memorable quality about grouping items in threes. Setting aside ancient rules of rhetoric, I wanted to use a mnemonic to help people remember that I’d make three points; remembering that there are three points is the first step to remembering what they were, after all. As conceptual points, I lacked an obviously visual way of communicating them. So I decided to use an image which focused on the ‘three-ness’ instead.
You might think that you need a big swanky camera to take pictures good enough to be used in a presentation or report, but in fact the majority of the images I’ve used are taken on a small digital point-and-click camera. What’s more important is getting reasonable lighting (which is why, in both of my examples, the pictures were taken on my kitchen worksurfaces, where I could add all sorts of lights). I then used a free image editor (Microsoft Picture Editor, in my case) to crop the images and increase the saturation, or make other changes. And if you really don’t have time to conduct a mini photoshoot, don’t forget the power of the cameraphone – if you’re out and about, and spot a nice image, perhaps an entertaining contrast or even a 3D exploded pie chart in the wild, you can quickly snap it and put it into your next presentation; after all, when you’re taking your own pictures, you can be certain there are no issues with permission to use them!