Using Words To Paint Verbal Pictures

We want our audience to imagine what we are talking about
We want our audience to imagine what we are talking about
Image Credit: Michael Becker

Pity the poor speaker. All that he or she has to work with during their speech is words. It is their challenge to find a way to draw their audience into their speech and make them experience what they have experienced only using words. In order to make this happen, we need to find a way to paint a “verbal picture” with the words that we use. We want our words to create a mental image in the mind of each member of our audience. Just exactly how can we go about making this happen?

Building Pictures With Words

Let us all agree that we understand the importance of public speaking and the goal of speaking and speechwriting is communication. How can we choose the best words to communicate what we want to say the next time that we are giving a speech? When we are giving a speech we are typically trying to persuade our audience to change how they think or feel about something. To that end, creating mental pictures to reinforce your points is particularly valuable. There is the old cliché that says a picture is worth a thousand words, but when all you have are words, how do you create that picture in the listener’s mind? We are faced with a decision: should we use long, fancy words? In speeches and most written communication, that would probably seem out of place. Simple language is usually the best answer.

Normally, when you think about a “description,” you think of adjectives. After all, their job is to describe things. However, you can also use nouns, verbs, and adverbs to accomplish the same thing. The key is your word selection and your specificity. If you look in a thesaurus for any particular word, you will probably find many different synonyms. We need to realize that not all synonyms convey the same meaning. Each word group has a specific circle of meanings, with each word claiming its own unique place in that circle. The best way to investigate what we might do is to take a simple example—the color red. You have your basic red, dark red, blood red, crimson, and burnt red, just to name a few. No one would confuse brunt red and crimson. Yet they are both red.

When you try to describe something, choose the particular word that fits best. A thesaurus may be helpful for that. The more specific you are, the more effective your description will be. Take the time to find the right word. If you choose to tell a story, create the picture in your audience members’ minds by evoking as many of their senses as you can. An example: “The pond had that pungent algae aroma and the dark green color of a forest.” Sometimes a description can include more than just the physical appearance. You might want to include the effect that it had on you.

Using The Power Of Words To Paint Pictures

You will want to create a picture in your audience members’ minds by describing as many of their senses as you can. Another technique that helps create a mental picture is called “onomatopoeia”. This is when the word imitates the sound made by or associated with what you are describing. An example would be the “roar of the engine” or the “tinkle of breaking glass”. The technique is useful because it helps your listener hear what you are describing.

Don’t be afraid to put words together that people don’t normally associate with one another. An example of this would be if you were trying to communicate to your audience the challenge that you had had in creating a meal with all of the different smells and scents drifting up from the various foods, you might say that they produced an aromatic cacophony. In this case, cacophony generally refers to sound; however, it would fit in this food situation.

Sometimes you can borrow a word from an entirely different arena. The key to description is to tap into our common experience. Don’t describe it from your personal perspective. Find something that your audience has experienced. That is when the description becomes vivid, real, and effective.

What All Of This Means For You

The goal of any speech that we give is to find a way to connect with our audience, share the benefits of public speaking, and have them see what we see. All that we have to work with during our speech are words and so it is up to us to find a way to use words that will paint a mental picture of what we are trying to get across to our audience. The challenge that we now face is to find out how we can shape our words to paint the pictures that we want in the minds of our audience.

The reason that we want to create mental pictures in our audience’s minds is because we want to find a way to reinforce the points that we are making. We need to keep our words short and simple so that they can be easily processed by our audience. In our speech when we are trying to describe something, we can use adjectives but we can also use adverbs. As we try to find ways to draw mental pictures, a thesaurus can be a valuable tool. The more specific that we can be when we are describing something, the better the picture that we’ll be painting will be. As we describe something, we always want to try to involve as many of our audience’s senses as possible. We get to choose the words that we’ll use so we need to feel free to choose words that people don’t normally associate with one another and words from different areas.

The art of building mental pictures is very similar to the art of painting. As we create our speech, we need to choose the words that we feel will build the most vivid picture in the minds of our audience. If we can search our vocabulary and find the words that will have the most meaning for our audience, then we’ll be successful in creating mental images that will allow them to see the points that we are trying to make. The next time that you are creating a speech, take some time to carefully pick your words so that the images that you draw on your audience’s minds are the ones that they’ll remember forever.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that you could ever draw too many mental pictures during a given speech?

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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!

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