Can They See What You’re Saying?

Every performing art form—whether it’s a speech, a dance, or a play—uses tools and techniques to achieve three essential goals:

  1. Maintain a disciplined approach.
  2. Control the flow of information.
  3. Keep the practitioner and audience engaged in such a way that the experience is mutually beneficial. A speaker and listener are partners in an extended conversation. How do we best use all our senses to maximize the communication experience?

Haig Kouyoumdjian, PhD, is a clinical psychologist who focuses his research on innovative teaching methods. In an article in Psychology Today, he states, “A large body of research indicates that visual cues help us to better retrieve and remember information. The research outcomes on visual learning make complete sense when you consider that our brain is mainly an image processor, not a word processor. In fact, the part of the brain used to process words is quite small in comparison to the part that processes visual images. Words are abstract and rather difficult for the brain to retain, whereas visuals are concrete and, as such, more easily remembered.” His research does not recommend the elimination of text. He encourages us to continually refine our approach to find symmetry of words and visual images that resonate with the audience.

You can learn a lot about finding the right combination of words and visuals from the world’s great filmmakers. Released in 1941, the movie Citizen Kane took a fresh and sophisticated approach to this art form. The rich visual scenes, performances, and experimental innovations in photography and sound make it one of cinema’s most-admired classics. It integrated a great story with a visual style that was ahead of its time. As a communications coach, I am most enthralled by how well it integrates words with powerful yet simple images that an audience can easily absorb.

Orson Welles, the film’s director, provided continual insights on the art of communication. He had the courage to create art that was powerful and distinct. Also admired for his outstanding oratory and presentation skills, I once read an interview with him that offered valuable encouragement and advice.

When asked how speakers could more effectively persuade an audience, he said something powerful and applicable in any era. As you continue to develop and polish your skills, tap into Welles’s energy and timeless advice: “Create your own style . . . let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others.”

When putting your presentation together, remember it’s not just strictly words you’re trying to communicate—it’s the visuals those words paint in the minds of your audience, along with strategically placed pictures and props. To learn more about effective strategies for engaging your audience, take my public speaking assessment at