Visual rhetoric: How to jolt your audience’s thinking out of its rut

Visual rhetoric for more sustainability

If you want your PowerPoint presentation to be successful and perhaps even leave a lasting impression, your talk and its slides need to offer something that really sticks in your mind. When you create images during your speech (either in the imagination of your audience or specifically on your slides),

you have a good chance that these images will stick with the audience and be memorable. This is called visual rhetoric. I explain how to use them for yourself in the blog article.

Ultimately, the aim is to break through familiar thought patterns and to jolt the viewer’s brain out of its routine. It is crucial for success that the target group can still recognize and assign the style break, i.e. decode it.

When using visual rhetoric at the word level, one uses the substitution, omission, or transposition of letters or the deliberate misspelling of words to gain attention.

A restaurant advertised goose dishes on its seasonal menu with the headline “Goose Delicious.”
A lakeside hotel advertised its offer with the headline “Seen.Sucht”.

At the textual level, it is often about ambiguous puns used to attract attention.

A Mercedes sports car, for example, was advertised with the headline “dare the dream now”.
A scene bar called itself “Bar of any reason”.

In image design, analogies are often made to convey messages. For example, to illustrate the team concept, images of a sailing regatta with the team working in harmony are often used. Also very popular are photos of marathon runners or sprinters, whose specialties (endurance or speed) are readily transferred to the business world. Even things that go together (pot and lid) or not (billy goat and vegetable garden, i.e. goat and gardener) can be used to reinforce messages.

You can use these visual design options to make your slides more interesting, add some pep to slogans or brands, or find an interesting headline for your presentation topic.

But also for your presentation you can create inner images in the audience by speaking in pictures. Use metaphors to describe things vividly!

Visual rhetoric: metaphors

In the stylistic device of metaphors, a term is replaced by another term located from a different domain in order to describe it vividly. You are using a term that most people are familiar with to aptly characterize another.

For example, you might say that your product is the “Rolls Royce” in the industry. It is immediately clear to everyone what you mean by this. It immediately creates an image of high quality and precision in your audience’s brain, even though you’ve only mentioned one brand of car.
They refer to a person as the “Steve Jobs” in his field. It is immediately clear to everyone that you mean to describe an innovative genius.

Visual rhetoric: analogies

Use analogies!
In analogies, connections are made to different facts, but which have similar structures.

If you want to make it clear why the additional directors hired have brought more confusion than order to a company, just say “too many cooks spoil the broth.”
They want to introduce a body lotion and say that by using it you get a skin “like velvet and silk”.

Visual Rhetoric: Allusions

Use allusions!
Allusions, simply put, are allusions to quotations that come from well-known books or movies, for example.

If you want to show that you are familiar with the black sheep in telemarketing, you could say “I know my Pappenheimer” (Wallenstein).
If you want to make it clear that you have made a particularly successful deal, you could jokingly say “the Force was with me” (Star Wars).

If you want to point out that the board members of Bank XY have collected an outrageous amount of bonuses, you might end your explanation with the remark “You don’t treat yourself to anything else” (Maltese Aquavit advertisement).


It is important to correctly assess in advance who is in the audience and which quotes are likely to be correctly recognized. Basically, all of these examples of visual rhetoric are about creating internal images in the audience. Science has long since recognized that we can process and store information particularly well in the form of images. Therefore, take every opportunity to form images in the minds of your audience during your presentation.

Dipl.-Wirtsch.-Informatiker Matthias Garten as the expert for multimedia presentations and professional PowerPoint presentations knows about the art of professional slide design. He is an entrepreneur, speaker (TOP 100 Speaker), trainer (TOP 100 Excellence Trainer), multiple book author, presentation coach (presentation training), member of the GSA and Club 55, organizer of the Presentation Conference, Presentation Bootcamp and Presentation Rocket Days. In addition to PowerPoint and presentation training, he inspires and advises companies to present themselves even more effectively and thus stand out from competitors. He is the business owner of the presentation and PowerPoint agency smavicon Best Business Presentations and with his team has created over 15,000 professional PowerPoint presentations for over 150 industries since 1993.