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Think Visually, Present Visually

Three approaches to converting text into visually informative slides

It's a pretty simple process converting text and bulleted lists into graphics if you are willing to consider using one of the following three approaches. One of these approaches will generally work for any bulleted text slide:

  1. Review how the text and/or bulleted lists are constructed – the hierarchy of the text in lists provides clues about which type of graphic can be used.
  2. Identify the text message – the text message is the point of the slide. It is the essence of what the slide is communicating.
  3. Interpret the text message into activity. Creating a concept can begin in a few different ways. One way is to look at the verb in the slide's message. Many times it will provide a clue about a possible concept that can be used.

Let's take a look at how these three approaches are applied to different types of text-intensive or bulleted text slides.

1. Review How the Text and/or Bulleted Lists Are Constructed

The first clue to a potential layout is the hierarchy of a text/bulleted list. Below are some examples of commonly constructed lists and a discussion of how each might be graphically displayed.

ONE TO MANY

A one-to-many hierarchy has one major thought or only one high-level sentence/phrase. All other text on the page is either subordinate or springs from the major thought. The "many" text is all on the same hierarchical level. The text below is an example of a one-to-many text hierarchy.


Examples of messages that use one-to-many text hierarchies are:

  • Next-generation products evolved from a single previous product
  • Dissemination of information from a single source
  • Analysis of a single object
  • Individuals associated with a project or organization
  • Possible answers to a single question.

As diverse as these concepts are, they can all be illustrated by the same one-to-many graphic layouts. Photographs and/or icons can be added to the layouts to enhance clarity and visual quality. There are many layouts that graphically illustrate a one-to-many hierarchy. Below are some examples of frameworks that can be used to visually support the spoken/onscreen one-to-many hierarchy and flow. Notice that in each case there is central or primary graphic object from which other, smaller objects flow.

MANY TO ONE

A many-to-one hierarchy has several points that are summarized or interpreted by a single paragraph/sentence/phrase. All the points are on the same hierarchical level and flow or lead to a single message. The text below is an example of a many-to-one text hierarchy.


Examples of messages that use many-to-one text hierarchies are:

  • Coordinated efforts that result in a single outcome
  • Factors that influence a situation
  • Set of skills required of the perfect candidate
  • Companies that are contributing to a single effort./li>

There are also many layouts that graphically illustrate a many-to-one hierarchy. Below are some examples of frameworks that can be used to visually support the spoken/onscreen many-to-one hierarchy. Notice that in each case there is either a central or primary graphic object to which other, smaller objects flow; or there is an arrow with multiple segments, after which a statement can be placed.

MANY TO MANY

A many-to-many hierarchy has several points that result in or flow to several other points. All of the first "many" points are on the same hierarchical level and all of the "to many" points are also on the same hierarchical level. The text below is an example of a many-to-one text hierarchy.


Examples of messages that use many-to-many text hierarchies are:

  • Concerted efforts that produce multiple products
  • Series of questions that, once answered, raise a higher-level set of questions
  • Product attributes that enable a set of functionalities
  • Committee members that collectively possess a complete set of skills.

Simple text hierarchies like those above can easily be turned into more interesting many-to-many graphic layouts. Below are some examples of frameworks that can be used to visually support the spoken/onscreen many-to-many hierarchy and flow. Notice that either a single flow object can be used for the whole group of many or each of the many-to-many points can occupy its own segment or field.

MULTILEVEL TEXT

A multilevel text hierarchy has several points at the top level, and each of the top-level text phrases has multiple levels of subordinate text. There may be a lead-in sentence/phrase and/or a take-away thought on the slide as well. This type of text hierarchy is used to present in-depth details of the top-level text. The text below is an example of a multilevel text hierarchy.


Multilevel text hierarchies like that above can be more compellingly displayed with a few graphic layouts. Below are some examples of frameworks that can be used to visually support this type of text hierarchy. Notice that repetitive use of a graphic device sometimes creates a framework for the multilevel text.

2. Identify the Text Message

Sometimes the clue to a graphic layout is not how the text is organized in a list, but the message itself. Text and lists that present parts of a whole, offer descriptions or clarifiations, pose questions and provide answers, explore options, or make comparisons – to name just a few messages – can be displayed graphically.

PARTS OF A WHOLE

Text that lists all components of an object, idea, theme, etc., is really just listing the parts of a whole. Therefore, any single object that is segmented can help visually communicate parts of a whole. Notice that the segmented whole may or may not have a place for the name/description of the whole. A simple text label can also be used to identify and describe parts of a whole.


DESCRIPTIONS

Blocks of text that describe mission, core values, vision statement, quotes, introductions or short bios of individuals, state-of-the-company statements, etc., can sometimes benefit from a framework, but may also be livened up by a photograph that help sets tone and visually supports the description. These slides are typically sparsely populated but the messages are of great importance. Don't miss an opportunity to create a memorable, visually pleasing slide that will underscore your powerful statements or descriptions. Spend a few minutes searching for a simple design element or photograph for these types of slides.

OPTIONS AND COMPARISONS

Text that lists sets of choices, possibilities, assessments, or comparisons benefit from their own types of graphics. Many times simply arranging the inventory of choices, possibilities, or assessments in an interesting way will suit the message. But before selecting a format for comparisons, determine whether there are one-to-one comparisons, which require horizontal alignments.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

You don't have to just settle for simple text questions and answers. These slides can be very creative. Take a look at some of the ideas below. Each one of them makes a strong visual statement. The two heads with the question mark in the middle suggests a question without a ready answer or no answer.


RELATIONSHIPS

Text descriptions of relationships can be converted to graphics easily. Establish relationships visually and your audience will grasp the concept quicker and retain the information longer.
While widely known and used org charts have their purposes, they tend to be used more frequently than necessary. Instead, consider using other, more visual layouts like those below.


STEPS OR SEQUENTIAL EVENTS

Text that is either numbered or specifically ordered usually conveys a flow or steps or sequenced events. The text structure can also include an end result that is not part of the steps or list of events. Bulleted lists like this are very common and are the easiest to translate into a graphic. There are many types of flow layouts; therefore, it's important to match the flow message with the graphic. A circular flow is a repetitive cycle, so it would be cumbersome to use a horizontal flow with an arrow at the end going back to the beginning – but this happens all the time. Be certain you have understood the list thoroughly enough to determine the appropriate type of flow graphic that should be used.


OPPOSITION

So many people use lists because it is easy and fast. Spend the time converting your lists to graphic and your audience will reward you with their attention. These three approaches should be sufficient to converting lists into graphics. Usually one of the three approaches will provide a method for creating a more visual display of a list. Bear in mind that sometimes lists are still the best to present some information, however. The examples of types of list that can be converted and the graphics shown are only a small sampling of the possibilities, but they should provide actionable ideas and, hopefully, stir up some creative thinking


3. Interpret the Text Message into Activity

Creating a concept can begin in a few different ways. One way is to look at the verb in the slides message. Many times it will provide the clue to an appropriate concept or visual analogy.

Verbs like striving, interrelate, explore, focus, explode, intertwine, revolve, protect, etc., all provoke a very strong mental image – create a graphic to match that mental image.

Sometimes a noun can provide the concept. For example, slides providing background information often communicate the journey that a company has taken to arrive at its current state. What would be a visual analogy for journey: road, flight, arrows to a horizon, etc. Below are a few examples of visual analogies that can be coupled with text messages to create greater impact.


So many people use lists because it is easy and fast. Spend the time converting your lists to graphic and your audience will reward you with their attention. These three approaches should be sufficient to converting lists into graphics. Usually one of the three approaches will provide a method for creating a more visual display of a list. Bear in mind that sometimes lists are still the best to present some information, however. The examples of types of list that can be converted and the graphics shown are only a small sampling of the possibilities, but they should provide actionable ideas and, hopefully, provoke some creative thinking.

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