Look this way, please

Perhaps you have noticed that the tag line for this blog is a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.” Great quote. (And perfect for a blog about public speaking.)

Here’s a slide of the quote and a picture of Emerson that I have used in courses that I have taught on public speaking and presentation skills:


Question: Would the slide be as effective if Emerson’s picture were flipped the other way as in the slide below?


Most people (and all of my students) prefer the first slide. Why? Because Emerson is “looking” at the words. In the second slide, he is looking away from them.

Psychologists have found that most people have their vision “pulled” in the same direction as that in which the person in the picture is looking. Yet we also want to read the words; thus when they are on the other side, we are simultaneously pulled in the opposite direction.

Another example; this one a little more nuanced. Have a look at the two slides below. Do you have a preference for one over the other?



Some of the people in my classes had no opinion; however the majority preferred the first one. In the first slide, the Mona Lisa has her face turned away from the words. However, her eyes are looking at them. In the second slide, the reverse is true.

This makes sense. Have you ever spoken with someone who is facing you but whose eyes at one point look elsewhere? You will almost certainly turn and look in the same direction to see what is there.

Admittedly, today’s tip is a subtle one and most people would not have difficulty with any of the slides above. However, as speakers our job is to make it as easy as possible for our audiences to understand and remember our message. Thus, everything that we can do to add a little more “spit and polish” to our presentations tilts the balance in our favour.

The next time you combine pictures of people and words on a slide, make them work as effectively as possible by having the people look at the words. And be creative. You do not have to limit yourself to pictures of people looking directly left or right. With a bit of thought, all kinds of pictures can be used.

Just ask Albert Einstein, someone who did his fair share of thinking.

Like the article? Help and spread the word!

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Share on email
Email

16 Replies to “Look this way, please”

  1. This is fascinating. With the Mona Lisa slide – it really is all about the eyes. You are absolutely right. These slides also reinforce the power of eye contact in general. We like to see the eyes facing the text because it makes us think that the body language and words are congruent. Somehow the eyes also reinforce the content. I just wrote about the power of eye contact: http://sarahgershman.blogspot.com/2009/11/power-of-face-to-face-encounter.html.
    Thank you for this post!
    Sarah

  2. I am the complete opposite.
    For the Emerson slide I prefer slide two simply because he is looking away from the words. This makes more sense to me. Words in a slide are there to communicate the message not be the message.
    For the Mona Lisa I see no difference. They are both neutral and equally effective.
    It could be that I am left-handed so I have a different perspective.
    Its rather strange when you say that ”all of your students agree with you” – might it not be a case that some of your students don’t want to offend by disagreeing with you or feel compelled to agree.

    1. Myles,
      Thanks for the comment. Always good to have a different perspective. It is interesting about your left-handedness, although I have no basis to know whether that makes a difference to your preference.
      I do take issue with the last paragraph of your message. You misquote me. I never said that my students agree or disagree with me. I said that they preferred the first slide. The issue was one of preference, not agreement. Besides, I began the discussion by simply showing them the two slides and asking which one they preferred without telling them my preference or the rationale for structuring one’s slides the way I discuss in the article.
      If you want to read more from the psychological perspective, check out the great article by Les Posen, who refers to my post but goes into much more detail: http://lesposen.wordpress.com/.
      John

  3. Great point – particularly about Lisa’s eyes!
    The next thing to consider is losing the inverted commas around the quote. By taking the inverted commas away, the quote becomes a fact associated with the picture, rather than a quote using the picture.
    Simple, but effective.
    Cheers
    Daarren Fleming
    Australia’s Corporate speech Coach

  4. Einstin made a very large contribution to the world, especially in the field of physics. Although he was a very clever man, he’s still human, and certainly made mistakes.

  5. @Daaren You commented that leaving out the quotation marks means “the quote becomes a fact associated with the picture, rather than a quote using the picture.”
    If I read this correctly it sounds like you’re saying the picture is the important element with the words secondary yet supportive, while the other way is for the picture to be secondary to the words.
    Is this correct? And you also say it’s effective… how do you measure this? Gven that in each slide we see a recognisable face, and the name under the quote matches, is it possible that as long as you’re consistent it makes little measurable difference. In some respects, by offering the name underneath the quote, the quotation marks become redundant, and perhaps take away from the clean and lean look I personally prefer and use. Sometimes having the quote in italics and the source in regular font can perform the same function.
    As an aside, the only time I ever read the words on a slide, is when I’m reading a quote and don’t want to get it wrong; even then I’ll try and alter my voice to somehow match how I think the author might sound, i.e, it’s not my quote, it’s theirs.

  6. Interesting insight. I give lots of presentations to classes, so I appreciate you pointing this out. What is your suggestion when the person in the photograph is looking straight ahead?
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Catherine. When a person is looking straight ahead, you have more flexibility in terms of where you place the text. But be careful! A photograph looking straight ahead might not be the best choice. See my follow-up post on this topic: http://wp.me/pwfa1-tj
      Cheers!

    1. Hi Craig. Thanks for the head’s up. I am not sure what happened. The images were all there in the media file. Since upgrading to the WP business plan, the site has been a bit wonky on a few things. But the images are back now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Testimonials

John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International