Speaking with Imagery Could Help You Verbally Paint a Picture

A picture is worth a thousand words, but you can paint a picture verbally with far fewer words. Communicating in succinct, concrete and exact language is often a plus in the legal world, but there are times you should also break out your verbal palette to better convey your message.

If you want to communicate your vision on an issue, including resolving a case through negotiation or mediation, you should try using image-based words, according to Andrew Caron’s article in the Harvard Business Review.

  • Image-based words convey sensory information to paint a vivid picture that your listener can easily imagine witnessing.
  • When speaking about visions using image-based words is more consistent with the literal meaning of the word “vision.”
  • By using vivid images, you’re transporting listeners to the future by telling parts of a compelling story that captures events that have yet to occur.

Vision statements with image-based words improve performance much more than visions with abstract statements, according to Carton’s research. He found that hospital leaders who talk about their visions using image-based words triggered better patient outcomes than leaders who communicated visions abstractly.

A second study where teams developing a toy prototype found that a vision communicated with image-laden words (“our toys…will make wide-eyed kids laugh, and proud parents smile”) resulted in better outcomes than a vision with similar content but without visual wording (“our toys…will be enjoyed by all of our customers”). Image-based words have a better chance of inspiring people to cooperate and work together to reach the same image of the future.

Life is filled with sights, sounds, and smells. Image-based words attempt to recreate these things verbally through language. Carton believes that the usefulness of words that mimic reality is especially effective when people think about the future because it’s so uncertain. They want to know what it will look, feel and sound like.

Carton writes that we’re not well-equipped to create vivid messages about the future because when we project ourselves into the future, we tend to think more abstractly. But image-based words are likely to provide benefits to a speaker that numeric targets cannot. Rhetoric with image-based words has been shown to be better than rhetoric with numbers in two key ways.

  • Messages using data and statistics aren’t easily understood without stories (which typically have image-based words), and
  • Messages with vivid details are more emotionally connecting than those with Emotions are usually what drives people’s decisions.

An example is VisionZero, New York City’s goal of reducing annual pedestrian fatalities from 200 to 0. This numeric target makes it a good benchmark, but if there was an image-based vision discussing how life would be different if this goal is reached and how the 200 people saved could impact and improve the lives of hundreds of more people, they might be more likely to inspire more motorists and pedestrians to use caution.

When you discuss the benefits of one option or another when talking to your client or the other party about resolving a legal matter, you should use image-based words to talk about their future and how it could change, depending on the choice and consequences.