How To Find Good Images For Presentations

photo by dottavi

Have you been stuck sometime to try and spice up your presentations with good images to make them more appealing? You don’t have to resort to the lame basic clip arts that came with your presentation program. These are so common, that their value, the interest that they generate in your audience is really minimal.

Of course there are different styles of presentation. Some people do not use images at all, and their presentations are all text, with a lot of bullet-points, sentences, paragraphs covering each slide. They tend even to read aloud from these slides. I do not subscribe to that school of presentations.

My preference is much more towards what is called the Lessig-style. This involves the use of many slides, each of them shown for only a few seconds, with very few words, one, or even no words, just an image. The reason I like presentations like this is because I believe that people should listen to you while you are talking. They should not read on screen what you are about to say. They should follow your voice, and what they see should be a complement to that. A good image is great in my opinion, because the cognitive clues that it gives do not interfere with listening.

You can find my presentations online at Slideshare. Take a look: many are also turned into a slidecast, by putting in sync the audio as well.

Apparently my presentation style has been positively perceived enough that I have received often the question: “How do you find these good images for your presentations?”

It is actually easier than it appears, and it perfectly suits my natural laziness. The process is the following:

  1. Organizing the ideas. I break down the topic I have to talk about in three-four main parts, and then break those down again in smaller and smaller parts, until I get to the minimal units. These will be typically two or three sentences in the speech.
  2. Representing them with a few words, a category, or an emotion. I will try to find a single representative expression of that idea. Not necessarily what is going to be said, or what is written on the presentation slide (remember that is also just one word, or a few).
  3. Search online for those words, and pick the favorite picture.

My preferred source of pictures is Flickr. I also store my own photos there, even if it seldom occurs to me to pick one of my own photos for my presentations. The reasons I like Flickr are manyfold, but here is why it helps a lot to find good images for your presentations:

  1. It has a very good search option, with advanced search parameters
  2. You can sort the result by relevance, or Flickr’s own interestingness value, which works well to bring cool photos to your attention
  3. I can restrict the search to the photos I can freely use by their license.

This last point is fundamental! Flickr supports Creative Commons licensing of the photos. What this means is that the artist uploading the photo, while retaining copyright, can automatically and without further consultation or negotiation, give certain rights to users of those photos. There are several types of Creative Commons license options. I choose to search for those photos that enable me to use them commercially, and which I can modify. This is one of the most liberal licenses: Creative Commons Attribution, or CC-A. I myself publish almost everything with this same license.

This means that when you find a photo you like, with the CC-A license, you can take it modify it, include it in your presentation, or for that matter in your book, movie, or any other derivative work, and as long as you give attribution to the original artist who took the photo, you are done. I put this attribution in the bottom right of each slide (in the past I used to put the credits on an extra slide in the back of the slide deck, but I changed. Maybe I will change again in the future, we’ll see.). Your presentation can be given for free, or you can ask for a fee, or you can even sell the videos that you make with the presentations. The value of the images will enhance them enormously. Your are not obliged to tell the artists whose pictures you took anything, but they might appreciate a note, or a comment on their photo page. But do not ask for permission up-front! That would really spoil the advantage that CC-A gave you and the artist up front, since individually approving of each use is what the license is there to avoid to start with.

So I hope this helps you find good pictures for your presentations! The next natural step would be to turn this text itself into a presentation… and maybe that is what I will do.