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The WHY of Visual Communication

Posted on April 3, 2017

The WHY of Visual Communication

Which do you remember better, what you HEARD, READ or SAW?

Would you be surprised to learn that at least 75% of our learning occurs through visuals?(Allan Paivio’s Dual-Coding Theory (1971) And, that visuals increase the “stickiness” of our content by over 50%!!

Learning Recall Related to Type of Presentation

Presentation Ability to Recall
after 3 hours after 3 days
Spoken lecture 25% 10-20%
Written (reading) 72% 10%
Visual and verbal (illustrated lecture) 80% 65%

Adapted from: Dale 1969.

The more current research into this phenomenon is called The Pictorial Superiority Effect visual(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Picture_superiority_effect).  What we have found is that our learning and memory is strengthened when we use multiple parts of our brains.  When visuals are used to represent or enhance an idea, our brain goes to work decoding, retrieving prior knowledge of that imagery, attaching it to what we are hearing or reading, and then filing it into our memory.  Compare this to listening or reading where we are more passively allowing the information to skim the top of our awareness.  This visual assimilation takes up to 50% of our brain’s processing power which is what drives it into our memory (“We Are All Visual Learners” by Jeff Hurt).

I see this in my own life when it comes to remembering the name of a song or the musician who sang it.  Growing up and then again with my own teenagers, I was known as the person who could never “name that tune”.  UNLESS I saw that artist in concert, and then I knew exactly who sang it!  And now with artists appearing on TV shows such as So You Think You Can Dance or American Idol, I can name that tune if I saw them perform it on stage.  It turns out that listening to the DJ on the radio giving me the name of the song and artist has a less than 10% stickiness for me, but having the visual and verbal experience of the moment is my eureka moment.

We also see this phenomenon with children.  They learn at a rapid pace because they rely heavily on the visual function of the brain (think of the picture books that teach kids the alphabet).  Somewhere along the line someone decided that at a certain age, we didn’t need pictures to learn, but it turns out that as we gain life experience, adults learn faster, more efficiently and with greater recall when visuals accompany our content.  This is because our neural pathways know where to store the new content to be assimilated with existing knowledge.

Be aware though that not all images are created equal.  Read my blog on the types of visuals to learn more about selecting images that drive comprehension and retention.

Remember, Visual Communication is your key to a winning presentation!

“What I hear, I forget;
What I see, I remember;
What I do, I understand.” 

– Old Chinese proverb, sometimes attributed to Confucius