The Interactive Image

You can learn a lot from people who view the world differently from you.
— Anthony J.D'Angelo

When using the image as an illustration, the presenter assigns meaning to the image. In contrast, when using the ‘interactive image’ method the audience assigns a meaning to an image. There are three methods of the interactive approach:

  1. Presenter’s image – Audience’s meaning
  2. Audience’s image – Audience’s meaning
  3. Common image – Audience’s meaning

The strength of these forms of the ‘interactive image’ is involving the audience, because asking an audience to assign meaning to an image does four things:

  • Gets them involved in the content of your presentation
  • Develops their understanding of your content
  • Helps uncover issues
  • Enables the presenter to understand and direct discussion

For the interactive image approach to work, the presenter must assure participants that they will not be judged for their choice. This simply means saying, “Any image can mean anything to anyone. So just pick images that you believe represent the topic. We will not judge you for your choice – but we will be curious to hear the reasons behind it.”


1.      Presenters Image – Audience’s Meaning

In this first method of the interactive image, the presenter chooses the image and asks the audience to assign a meaning. This approach is useful for priming an audience to receive information, such as, the company’s policies or a customer service model.

There are many possible interpretations of images, but there are usually several obvious ones. Consider the following example; you have been asked to present your company’s 5-point customer service charter to a group of new employees.

While the charter is not changeable, the audience has an opportunity to get involved and to apply their ideals. This increases retention, and increases the probability the audience will recognise the real-life situation and act appropriately.


 2.      Audience’s Image – Audience’s Meaning

In this second method of the interactive image, the Persuasive Presenter allows the audience to select their own images for their own reasons. A simple way to do this is to hand each person a magazine or a wad of postcards and scissors, or CSS Cards© (as explained in detail later). Give them a topic, such as, “what do you believe are some of the characteristics of a good leader?” Ask them to go through the magazine and to find images that they believe represent the characteristics. Get them to cut the images out and place them on the table. When they finish, have them talk about their choices.

This method suits a workshop format because it will produce plenty of interaction between the presenter and the audience and among the audience. Like the first method of the interactive image, this second method is useful for preparing an audience to receive information.

When Persuading for Results, this method is particularly valuable when the presenter is raising issues and ideas that everybody is likely to have a strong opinion on, or when there is not necessarily a ‘right’ answer. It helps an audience to realise there are many different answers and gives them a richer understanding of the issue. Most importantly, is connects them directly to the issue with a meaning that is relevant to them.

The Persuasive Presenter recognises that most of what the audience needs to know, they already know – they just do not always recognise or apply this knowledge. This approach provides the audience members with an opportunity to reflect on their own thoughts about a subject, and to compare these with the ideas of others.

It also primes people to want to hear what you have to day about the subject. After selecting images for their own reasons and articulating their choices, individuals want to assess their thinking against your expert opinion. You will need to be thoroughly prepared because each member of your audience is now looking for evidence that they have the ‘most correct’ understanding. In addition, audience members may be emotionally attached to their choices.


3.      Common Image – Audience’s Meaning

The third method of ‘the interactive image’ is the ‘common image’. This special method has several features and benefits that warrant separate discussion.

A simple way to use this third interactive method is to hand each person a deck of cards, with each card containing an image. Give them a topic, such as, ”What do you believe are some of the characteristics of a good leader?” Ask them to look through the deck of images to find four pictures they believe represent the characteristics. Get them to place them on the table after several minutes. When they finish, have them talk about their choices.

Using common images in this way is fun and:

  • Reduces tension and encourages full participation. All members recognise that they have the same tool for expression as their colleagues and feel on par with other members, regardless of the levels of experience or rank.
  • Encourages and simplifies comparisons between group members.
  • Quickly highlights common choices and unique choices across a group.
  • Helps the group agree quickly.
  • Enables discussion about priorities and preferences by individuals placing their choices in order of preference before comparing them with others.
  • Promotes interest and respect for other people’s perspectives.
  • It is fun.

To use the ‘common image concept’, a presenter could prepare their own set of images using reproductions or photographs and graphics. However, it is more practical and efficient to use a commercially available system – The Compatibility Communication System (CCS). The CCS developers coined the term ‘common image communication concept’ and their system provides everything the Persuasive Presenter needs to benefit from this approach in their presentations. You can find out more from their website, and from the case study below.


Case study: State Street in Japan

When Vicky Karatasas, who is now the head of HR for the Commonwealth Bank, was at State Street as Vice President, Head of Leadership and Change – Europe, she was responsible for employee’s career opportunities at a Regional level. This role brought many challenges as she managed staff development in a range of business and cultural contexts.

The following story is about Vicky’s experiences presenting to a group of business people in Japan. The story illustrates the power of images to provoke thought, to break down barriers between people, and to promote communication.

Vicky travelled to Japan to run workshops with Japanese State Street employees. She had researched the local business culture in Japan and understood the Japanese are well-known for their work ethic and strong group relationships. She has also been advised that the Japanese participants were likely to be reluctant about voicing their difficulties and frustrations in front of their colleagues. She understood the participants were also unlikely to speak openly about their own underperformance or that of their colleagues. She was concerned because she know that without frank and open communication, it would be difficult to solve the challenges facing the Japanese teams. Fortunately, Vicky used a creative technique the CCS cards©, involving images, to provoke constructive, open discussion. She tells her story:

Vicky comments the cards have worked for her in different cultural contexts. Imagine that you were asked to present to a group of doctors in Poland, or to a group of exchange students from China. What would an audience of Polish doctors expect? What would Chinese students expect? How would you begin preparing for this? Look at the lessons you can take from Vicky’s story and adapt them to your own presentations.