Better Illustrations = Better Communicator

I wanted to call this post: Illumination Through Illustration. There is a powerful connection that takes place between speaker and audience when one can share the right illustration, at the right time, and for the right reason.

The right illustration adds value and meaning to your message. The wrong illustration will detract and distract from what you’re trying to say.
The right time allows the audience to connect with your illustration at both the heart and head level. Tell the right story at the wrong time and people are left scratching their heads.
The right reason affirms message you are trying to convey. It might be a great story, but if that’s the only reason you’re telling it, you’ll send a lot of mixed messages.

The type of illustrations I’m talking about are the anecdotal stories that come alongside and help to support the point you are trying to make. I have found a well-placed illustration helps an audience see your message in action. It is a picture of what your point looks like in real life. It helps  people connect what you’re saying to their own lives.

If you want to illuminate your audience through the power of illustration, I encourage you to practice these seven tactics of illustration wisdom:

1. Personal illustrations are by far the most powerful illustrations.

You can gather all kinds of stories and anecdotes from other people. But it’s the stories that come out of your own life and experience that are the most meaningful.

2. Illustrations are one of the best ways to capture people’s attention.

People are often bored by bullet points. But they will put down their cell phones and move their eyes back toward the front of the room when they hear someone telling a good story.

3. The best illustrations are born out of your real life – be honest and accurate!

You may think that your situation or experience needs some embellishing. Don’t lie to your audience. If it didn’t happen, don’t make it up. Speak from integrity.

4. Be sure to share stories of failure and struggle.

People won’t be able to relate to all of your success, but they sure will appreciate your willingness to be open about your mistakes. This makes you sound human…and real…and authentic…and worth listening to.

5. Don’t just tell a story to tell a story. Know how the illustration applies to what you’re trying to communicate.

This goes back to telling a story for the right reasons. I’m always frustrated by speakers who try to make a story fit (when it doesn’t). It’s awkward. It is hard to transition out of. It will make you sound unprepared.

6. Think about your audience. Be sure to share the illustration in such a way that your audience can relate.

You have to be able to read your audience. It’s not about what you want to say as much as it’s about what they’ll hear. Don’t use an illustration about slamming down a meat-lovers pizza at a vegetarian convention.

7. If you can use humor effectively, do it. If not – please don’t.

Humor can be an amazing tool to connect a speaker with his or her audience. But it can also drive an unrepairable wedge in between you both if it’s used poorly or inappropriately.

7b. If you are going to use humor, use it at your own expense, never at the expense of someone in the audience.

People will always appreciate a little self-deprecating humor. If you allow your audience to laugh with (or at) you, they’ll like you a little more. If you try to make them laugh at someone else, they’ll think you’re a bully.


Let me hear from you. What advice would you give someone who is learning to improve their communication skills through the use of illustrations?

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