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This chapter is from the book

John McWade

Designer, author, world’s first desktop publisher

John McWade is the founder and creative director of Before & After magazine and the author of numerous books on graphic design. His latest book is Before & After: How to Design Cool Stuff (Peachpit Press, 2010).

Picture your presentation

Better than charts and bullet points, photographs give your audience an emotional connection to your words. As presenters, we love data! Fifty-two base hits, 23 abandoned children, Class 3 hurricanes. We track data, we analyze it, we graph it—and we cheerfully present it to snoozing audiences everywhere. What’s funny is that data alone has no value. Only in the context of real life does it have meaning. And real life is conveyed best not with data but with story.

To tell a story, you need the help of photos. Photos communicate on many channels. They wordlessly draw the audience into your world, make emotional connections, and prepare your listeners for what you have to say.


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It’s easy to find generically happy images, but the unseen sadness that everyone bears will rattle each audience member’s soul. When pitching a program like the proposed shelter above, think first not in terms of dollars or “social units” or other statistical data but about who you’re helping and why—then find an image to express it.


The top slide consists of only a fancy list of notes. The bottom slide with the orange inside the apple is surprising and familiar at the same time. The simple question—not a statement—gets the audience thinking and ready for what you’ll say next.

You are the show

The first thing to understand is that you are the show; your audience has come to hear you, not read slides. Use a slide to fill the listener’s mind with an image, then fill in the details orally. It’s fun!

One thought at a time

Make one point per slide, even if you have room for more. This gives the viewer room to think and to “own” what you’re saying, which are keys to good communication.


Click to view larger image

Planes, trains, buses, taxis, 589,000; 377,800; 320,900; 218,600—quick! got all that? It’s useful information, but who will be moved by it, much less remember it? Put the data on four slides, one topic per slide, each accompanied by a descriptive, full-screen photo. This gives your viewer room to think and to own what you’re saying.

Search using iStockphoto’s CopySpace

How does one find good photos? The artistic part is up to you, but iStockphoto’s Search with CopySpace function can help with composition. Enter a keyword, specify what part of the photo you want to leave space for words, and click.

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