“Simplifying characters and images toward a purpose can be an effective tool for storytelling in any medium.” –Scott McCloud
This week on the Ethos3 blog, we are looking at the similarities between comics and public speaking. Because they are both verbal-visual mediums, they have more in common than we might think. For example, in his book Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, Scott McCloud explains a fascinating concept called amplification through simplification. Here’s how it works.
In the cartoon above, the gradual reduction of detail moves us from focusing on one specific man to finally seeing just a face, any human face. When the comic artist strips the drawing down its essence, it creates a different, more universal meaning. Presenters can use the concept of amplification through simplification in three different ways.
In a speech about the way technology has affected our ability to focus on our surroundings and has reduced the amount of eye contact we make with other humans, one speaker used simplification to amplify her message. Several times during her presentation, she used the simple phrase “look up” to remind us what we were missing. She packed a lot of power into two very simple words.
It can be tempting to want to impress the audience with your vocabulary when you step onto a stage, but that can get in the way of what presenting is all about: clear communication. So avoid the use of jargon, define terms that might be unfamiliar or unclear, and look for ways to simplify the content. Make it your goal to remove all the barriers to understanding. Why use a large words and risk misunderstandings? Don’t impress the audience with your linguistic theatrics, impress them with your clarity.
This is one of the more common problems in presentations. Speakers tend to cram too much information on their slides, confusing the audience and convoluting the message. This is where comics can really help us. Remember, it’s not just simplifying to simplify. It’s simplifying in order to amplify. You are guiding the audience’s focus by limiting options and removing distractions. If you have a screen with 5 different things on it, the audience doesn’t know what to look at first. However, if you have only 1 or 2 things on the screen, it’s very clear where the speaker wants your attention to fall.
On Monday, we talked about how words and pictures should be partners in a dance, supporting each other, each taking turns, but not competing. Look at how comics use words and pictures in an interdependent relationship.
This type of relationship can be powerful in public speaking as well, one in which words and pictures are separate parts which come together to produce the whole story. If there is anything on the screen, it should have an active role in helping to create understanding. It’s not meant to be a passive background. Even a logo on a simple screen can be distracting when the audience is meant to focus on the speaker.
Whenever parts of your presentation seem too complex, think about comics. Think about how simplifying your message, the visuals, or the relationship between them can help your audience. When you simplify you illuminate, like a spotlight, exactly what you want your audience to focus on and understand.
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