Let Them See What You Mean

How many times have you heard someone say, "I see what you mean?"

People say this all the time, and they really mean it.

We understand what we see clearly in our minds, which works in the currency of images.

Communicators who want to connect with target audiences need to think visually. They need to show what they mean. Playwright Harold Pinter said we use words to hide our nakedness. Use visual communication to reveal what you really mean.

There is no need to toss the dictionary in the trashcan. Words can paint pictures. Stories can spark imagination. Analogies and metaphors can reveal great truths. Powerful phrases can penetrate deeply into our memory.

The strength of words, stories and phrases can be amplified by combining them artfully with images, video and charts. Remember those initial Southwest Airlines ads with a big chart showing its low rates to key cities compared to other airlines? You didn't need any more explanation – or motivation – to buy a ticket on Southwest Airlines. You could see it was a good deal.

Visual communication is often more capable than words of speaking both to the mind and the heart. Explaining in words the catastrophic effects of a hurricane or a huge oil spill has far less impact than displaying still or video images that show the devastation. Putting images and words skillfully together can deliver the maximum punch.

Many people wrestle with how to describe a complicated process or a complex subject. Visualizing a process or subject can make it easier for an audience to grasp.

The key to successful visual communication is simplifying what you are trying to say by showing what you mean in words and images that help your audience to see. At CFM, we call this information design – creating communication tools that connect with the audience you want to reach.

The greatest compliment you can receive after a speech, marketing pitch or presentation is, "I see what you mean." To earn that compliment means shifting from deciding what to say to designing how to show what you mean.