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Tim Riesterer

Corporate Visions

Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer

Read more from Tim Riesterer

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Getting the Most Out of Visual Storytelling


Most people know intuitively that a story told just with words can’t measure up to one told visually.

In fact, a slew of scientific studies—at least 13, by my count—have corroborated something called the “picture superiority effect.” According to this principle, when people are told information just with words, they remember only 10 percent of what they hear just two days after hearing it. But that figure jumps to 65 percent when you accompany that story with a visual.

That jump is something to bear in mind with respect to your customer conversations. After all, during an engagement you want to be engaging, and after you leave you want to be remembered. That means you need to make it apparent to prospects that what you’re telling them is remarkable. Visual storytelling can give you a tremendous boost in these areas. 

Maximizing the Picture Superiority Effect

So, visual stories are great. Most of you already know that. The question is, what kinds of visual stories allow you to take maximum advantage of the picture superiority effect? What makes you most persuasive and compelling, and what helps you exert the most influence on buying decisions?

These questions led my company, Corporate Visions, to team up with Dr. Zakary Tormala, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, on an experiment that would test the selling impact of different kinds of visual stories.

For the experiment, we asked over 700 people to listen to a selling message delivered in one of three online videos. Each video included the exact same story being told the exact same way. The only difference was the visual tool used to support that message.

Participants watched the following presentation conditions:

  • Traditional PowerPoint (simple bullet points and stock photography)
  • Zen PowerPoint (large metaphorical photograph with one simple key phrase.
  • Whiteboard (as if the images were being drawn live in front of the audience)

The participants were then asked to answer a series of questions before being asked to retell the story as they remembered it. This was done immediately after watching the presentations, then repeated again two days later.

So which visual presentation condition came out on top?

The study revealed that the whiteboard-style presentation outperformed the two PowerPoint presentations by a statistically significant margin. In each of the following areas, whiteboard-style areas came out on top:

  • Recall accuracy
  • Engagement level
  • Trustworthiness and expert credibility
  • Clarity and quality
  • Likeliness to cause participants to share the information they learned

And, two days after the presentation, the study found that participants in the whiteboard-style condition were more likely to say they had changed their behavior as a result of what they’d seen and heard in the presentation.

This study should be a clarion call for salespeople, announcing that if you want to tell a winning story, it’s time to turn on the lights, drop the clicker, pick up a marker and deliver more memorable and impactful customer conversations.

One Response

  1. Really interesting blog and

    Really interesting blog and research findings Tim, thanks a lot for sharing – I'll definitely start putting this into practice…although my whiteboard drawing skills might need some improvement.

    I think a lot of Sales people use the traditional PowerPoint presentations crammed with lots of words and bullet points as a bit of a support mechanism so that they don't forget what to say and ensure they get all of the key messages across.

    I recently began a series of blogs called "Consultative selling using training management software" which looks at Sales best practice in L&D, how to position yourself as a trusted advisor and ultimately how to close the deal.

    We have also just published some revealing research which explores the "Seven habits of highly Successful Training Providers" and which identifies the golden thread of winning habits that all high-performers embody.

    Hopefully this will be of interest to you, thanks again.

Author Profile Picture
Tim Riesterer

Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer

Read more from Tim Riesterer

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