Building bridges

by anketroeder

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You have learned to use images on slides. You know images carry messages and emotions. You understand how important an image can be. And you probably have asked yourself at one time or another: »Where will I find the perfect picture for my slides?« The answer is pretty simple.

You won’t find it.

There is no perfect picture. If there was, photographers would be the most depressed species on Earth.

The answer is even simpler. It does not matter which picture you choose. Yeah, some images may fit your message better than others, some will be clearer, some will be faster, some will be more »connected«.

And of course there is cheesy and artsy and surprising and comforting and aesthetic and gritty and shocking and touching and cliché and everything else an image can be.

But what it all comes down to is that you, as a presenter, make the connection between image and message, between visual and words. You build the bridge. You are the bridge. You can have the image ask a question, or make a bold statement. You choose the frame, you provide the context.

So choose fast, choose quickly and if you dare, choose blindly.

In my class room I have a box full of art postcards I collect pretty much wherever I go. Each term at the end of a class I ask my students to pick a card. They can choose whatever they take a fancy to, for whatever reason. The mind is a beautiful maze. Later I ask them to connect their postcard to the topic of presenting. They find that extremely hard to do, at first.

»Look closely«, I say. »Look at the colors, at shapes, at faces, at patterns. And then count to three and begin to talk.« And that is how we begin our journey; slowly, stumbling at first.

Susan holds up a Victorian sepia-colored engraving with a group of ice skaters.

»Presenting is like dancing«, she says. »If everyone is moving at the same rhythm, it is a good talk.«

We keep finding more bridges. Presenting can be dangerous, there are traps, there may be thin ice. You need an ice breaker, with some people, we continue. And could go on for a while from here.

Carola’s card is a commercial for a brand of blue jeans. A young woman is leaning against a door; she is just wearing a bra and a pair of faded jeans.

»We talked about presenting naked«, Carola says. »And about not having to be see-through. About the fact that most of your fears are invisible. That you can learn to be more comfortable as a presenter.« »And making your audience comfortable«, Melanie adds. This is an all women class, and we have managed to build a very friendly and open atmosphere.

And so we move on and connect  and associate and build bridges where there were no bridges before, just picture postcards.

Presenting well is not about finding the perfect picture for your slides. It is about building bridges.

You can spend hours searching and only lose valuable time. If you are not sure what may work, why not let chance help you? You have been thinking so much about your topic, pretty much everything will connect itself to it, if you let it.

The picture at the top is one I took a few summers ago. I was having brunch with my best friend and we were watching the September wasps eat half of it.

I did not choose that image just now, I simply opened Picasa and randomly let my mouse open a folder. I order my images by date, so my folder names are simply dates: 2007-09-05. Oh, September, I said to myself, what a coincidence. Coincidence just smiles, as always.

A folder usually contains something between twenty and fifty images, often a series, so there were some twenty hungry wasps on food, and I simply picked one image. Not the best, not the cutest, not the most interesting, simply the first one my eye focused on.

And now it’s your turn. How do wasps connect to to this blog post? How do they connect to presenting? Can they carry the message of working with any given image?

Of course they can.

Wasps are choosy. They will carefully circle a slice of ham or apple pie and only then decide. Just like us, the like to take their time.

On the other hand, wasps are greedy. They just can’t get enough and often grab too big a bite and can hardly take off with it. Just like us, with our many images, with our talent for wasting time and energy by choosing from simply too wide a range of choices.

Then there is the image itself. I might use the one above to talk about focusing. About team work. About color contrast. About fear. About annoying audience members. About sweet nothings. About getting caught in a trap. About happy endings.

Use it to talk about whatever you like. Concentrate on your message. Focus on your words. Connect to your audience.

Use your image to build bridges. But don’t waste hours in search of perfection. Perfection is overrated. Perfection is always only in the hunting, never the finding.