Emoji have become a huge part of how we communicate in the modern world. (We use them all the time on our Twitter!) With so much of our communication hosted digitally, emoji have become almost as important as the words themselves when it comes to composing messages. Quite simply emoji are changing the way we communicate. So if that’s true, what does it mean for the way we communicate outside of social media and messaging apps – what does it mean for corporate communication and PowerPoint presentations?

Visual communication: a brief history

Let’s start with the basics. Visual language has pretty much always been a feature of human communication. Cave and rock paintings date back to the prehistoric era and largely capture what the people of the day would have encountered and cared about – wild animals. These illustrations developed over time into symbols and simple pictures and began to carry the meaning of whatever was depicted in the drawing (a drawing of a dog = dog). These pictograms were combined with ideograms (symbols and drawings that refer to ideas and concepts – for example, today a lightbulb might mean innovation), and simple visual languages were born.

We’re used to seeing this language in Egyptian hieroglyphs, or even in Chinese characters (knows as logograms), and though we may not realise it, we’re very used to seeing it in emoji.

Source: https://www.historyofvisualcommunication.com/

A brief history of emoji

Emoji – as we know them – have been around since the late 1990s and were developed by a Japanese engineer who was looking for ways for customers to communicate through the use of visual icons. The name comes from ‘e’ meaning picture, and ‘moji’ meaning character.

Prior to emoji we had emoticons – the classic sideways faces created using punctuation: 🙂 am I right? These creations can be found as early as 1881, and were reported to be used to convey emotions as early as 1982 on a university message board.

Source: https://www.rd.com/culture/history-of-emoji/

Now we have over three thousand emoji at our disposal. Everything from an array of faces, to signs and symbols, via all your favourite methods of transport. One bunch of emoji lovers went to real extremes and wrote the entirety of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick using emoji.

Why we love emoji

So what is it about emoji that we just can’t get enough of? For the most part we aren’t writing epic novels using them, we simply use them to complement and enhance written language. But that’s just it – I can communicate intention and emotion with emoji in a way that just isn’t possible with written language. Emoji have become the short-hand for expressing complex concepts and feelings that are difficult to write down in words.

How emoji can make your presentations better

This idea of expressing things using pictograms and ideograms is not a new one (as we saw earlier), but the ever-increasing popularity of emoji shows we can’t just file it away as only being relevant to our prehistoric relatives.

For thousands of years humans have latched onto complex concepts expressed with simple visuals and that’s not going anywhere. So how can we make sure we’re adopting this tool to communicate effectively in all aspects of life and, particularly for this discussion, presentations?

We all hate text on PowerPoint slides, right? Well this is your way to get rid of the words and add in visuals. You can do this in two main ways – with pictures and icons.

Images – the pictograms of presentations

A picture says a thousand words, as the old adage goes, and this is very true for presentations. Think about all the scene-setting you don’t have to do when you show a picture of your client’s workforce relaxing at home, or an image of your product in situ in your user’s office.

It’s the kind of ‘presentation zen’ approach to slide creation, and though it shouldn’t be used excessively or exclusively, bringing images into your presentations can open up all sorts of ideas, concepts and characters to your presentation that words can’t or shouldn’t.

For more juicy insights on using pictures in your presentation check out these articles:

Icons – the ideograms of presentations

If a picture is the pictogram of presentations (showing something literally), then an icon is an ideogram, or something that conveys a concept or idea. As I mentioned earlier concepts like ‘innovation’ are regularly expressed by a lightbulb icon, but it’s not a one-off. Think about how a stethoscope icon can mean healthcare, how a magnifying glass can mean focus, or how a handshake can mean partnership.

What was originally a full sentence on your slide, can be replaced by an icon and one or two words and your slide becomes much less cluttered, and to be honest, more memorable.

Before we move on, I just want to mention clichés. Icons often behave more like emoji than pictures. Some concepts seem to use the same icons over and over. The icons I mentioned above are so entwined with their concepts, that if you use a different icon your audience might not understand your point. And if you use a familiar icon to represent a totally different concept it’s unlikely to have a clear meaning. This is why labelling your icons is helpful. But this brings up a wider discussion about clichés – is it good to use familiar icons on your slides, or does it make your deck look tired and samey. If you use new icons do you risk your audience not understanding the concepts you’re explaining? These are great questions, and we have an article that discusses whether clichés have a place in your presentation right here.

If that has whet your appetite for getting icons involved in the action in your presentations, good news! Did you know PowerPoint has a built-in icon library – learn how to make the most of it here.

Now it’s worth saying that you can use icons literally, and you can use pictures to talk through a metaphor, but the important thing is making sure that you are using them in the same way as we all use emoji – to complement your message and communicate about feelings and concepts that are difficult to express with words.

Go forth and be visual 🙂

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Written by

Shay O’Donnell

Managing design consultant

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May 2024

We have compiled 50 presentation quotes and categorized them into 10 themes so that you can easily find a quote that resonates with your message, be it in a sales presentation, keynote speech, or training deck. All the quotes include references and attributions, so that you can sail through compliance and get on with creating a stunning presentation!

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A big and sincere thanks for all of your superb help and effort in preparing such fantastic material and for all your excellent coaching tips. Look forward to working with you again soon.

Greg Tufnall Siemens