Master Your Message Blog

Why Visuals Are More Powerful Than Words

Words actually don’t exist … to our brains, at any rate. We don’t see words as a series of letters. We see them as pictures.

I know … that changes things. When we read a word, we actually see it as a whole bunch of little tiny pictures. We look for features like horizontal or vertical lines, rounded corners, etc. and then we think back to our library of letter images and match it up to what we’ve stored from the past.

Over time, we get pretty darn good at this process and it takes us milliseconds to do all the calculations and read a sentence. So reading text is highly taxing on our brains. As a result, text presentations are simply not very effective for transferring information.

Listen to this fact: If information is presented orally, we remember about 10% three days later. However, if a picture is added in, that figure goes up to 65%.

We don’t remember words. What was the last series of word screens you remember from a presentation? Exactly.

Powerpoint and Keynote are test-based. That’s a problem. Don’t fall into the trap of using screens and screens of text. You’ll simply be transmitting thousands and thousands of pictures … and we’ll remember very few of them.

However, tests have shown that people can remember more than 2500 images with at least 90 percent accuracy for days after initial exposure. So … what’s the difference?

The sequence. When we learn to read and write, we’re actually remembering thousands of images of letters. A certain sequence gives us a word. We tend to find remembering sequences a lot harder than the pictures themselves. This is why it’s difficult to memorize scripts or speeches,  for example.

So, we may remember thousands of images, but not perhaps the sequence, or order in which we first encountered. The key here is that we remember pictures with far greater ease than text.

So … words don’t actually exist. Why use them if there’s a more powerful alternative?

Comments for this Post

  • langston wells November 28, 2016, 10:58 am

    If information is presented orally, we remember about 10% three days later. However, if a picture is added in, that figure goes up to 65%.
    i am doing a paper on communication and learning through visuals and audio, so i would like to know which source you used to get this statistic from. thank you for your time. email me at

    • Emily Fergus April 24, 2017, 11:59 am

      Could you share the source with me? I’m doing communication research for my class and it would be very helpful. Thank you!

  • Janet Janssen October 20, 2017, 4:59 am

    Sources are key to credibility. I too am interested in the sources for this article. Great stuff. Tx

    • Peter Temple December 13, 2017, 9:09 am

      The source for this data is “Multimedia Learning,” by Richard Mayer. He did an extensive amount of work with groups of students and developed all this support data. Best science on the matter I’ve been able to find.


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