Sometimes a Picture Isn’t Worth A Thousand Words

A picture is worth a thousand words. But not always.

Sometimes a picture feels like you have to read another thousand words.

Imagine yourself at a meeting where you are going to discuss the budget for next year. You have your coffee, a copy of last year’s budget, and your computer in front of you. You are having a quiet conversation with your colleague about the proposed seating arrangement changes for the HR and Admin departments. The CFO walks into the room. He is a kind man who has been with the company for 15 years. You expect that he will continue to be here until he retires. He takes the front of the room and begins with his first slide.

The CFO knows the value of a picture and opens with a graphic that shows the declining profit margin over the last 8 years, with the increasing cost of employee benefits, and the value of natural commodities plotted in a different style. The CFO is particularly proud of this graphic because he has worked with the Communications Department to make it catchy. What is super-fancy is that the Communications Department has found a way to include the employee engagement scores for the same 8 years, even though these scores can’t be measured in cost. This picture took a thousand words to explain and develop, and it is spectacular.

Unfortunately, this slide will also take a thousand words to explain. And then someone might misunderstand an aspect. And it could take another thousand words.

A picture is worth a thousand words if it evokes emotion. Above I gave a word picture of the beginning of a meeting. I don’t have to fill in the detail; I expect that you have filled in the gaps with your experience. Your emotion fills in the rest of the features. Are you nervous, mad, bored, anxious? With a picture, it is the emotions you draw out that are worth the extra words.

Pictures can be worth a thousand words, but using a picture doesn’t guarantee that it will replace a thousand words. Use your pictures with care. The quiet conversation at the beginning of the next meeting will probably be about the confusing budget presentation that the CFO made.