Using Imagery to Improve Your Communications

Using Imagery to Improve Your Communications

While most instructors and speakers are usually focused on one the five senses, research has proven that if we can engage more of the senses, using imagery and metaphors, the impact of our words will be strengthened significantly.   Perhaps one of the most famous examples of the use of imagery comes from following passage from Dr. King’s I have a Dream speech.  That speech is generally recognized as one of the most powerful public addresses ever made:

“In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”

The imagery of a check, coupled with a bank and the “riches of freedom” engaged the audience at a much deeper level because of the visualization in their collective memories.

According to the Baker-baker Paradox, a person is more likely to remember the profession of a person versus their name.  According to the British Journal of Psychology, this is a consequence of the associative architecture of the human brain.  According to the article it is likely that one reason for the Baker-baker paradox is that the occupation baker automatically and unconsciously activates a number of concepts typically associated with this profession, whether it be a funny hat or smelling the loaf of bread.  In contrast a person whose name is Baker – well that usually has to stand alone.

Neurologically speaking, when you learn someone’s profession, a larger number of synapses are strengthened.  This strengthening of synapses is one way in which the brain stores memories. 

There are many more of these seemingly “brain quirks” that can be used by instructors.  For instance a 2008 study by Yale researchers showed that a person holding a warm beverage was more likely to be perceived as having a warm personality.  In a 2009 study published in Psychological Science researchers proved that study participants perceived a book to be heavier when they were told it contained more important information.

So how do you put this to use in your everyday dealings with students or even the people you manage?  The advice is simple.  If you’re trying to spur your audience to action, you need to offer them a story filled with imagery and metaphors.   But do this with care.  Too many metaphors, too much imagery, or too complex a visualization can cause your message to get lost in its entirety.  Simple imagery, aimed carefully at your listening audience, will do the trick.

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