Mike Parkinson is an internationally recognized visual communication expert, author, and highly rated speaker. He is also a fellow Microsoft PowerPoint MVP. Mike is the owner of the 24 Hour Company (a premier creative services firm) and Billion Dollar Graphics (a training and graphic solutions company). Both of his companies are deeply rooted in the world of developing presentations and training people on how to communicate effectively.

In this episode with Mike Parkinson, we talk about visuals and persuasion in presentations, what happens in the human brain, how design sells, virtual presentations, his book, and some simple rules you can follow to make the slides work for you.

The role of visuals

80% of what we learn comes through our eyes. The brain takes in visuals differently, and we trust what we see more than the spoken word. When we see a visual, we take it all at once, whereas when we see some text, we decode it linearly which takes more time.

Our brain also takes shortcuts – if the aesthetics are of poor quality, it assumes that the content is also of poor quality. This way it calculates if something is worth our time paying attention.

If the visuals look good and well-thought-out, the audience automatically thinks that the content is valuable, too.

Design sells

The visual aspect is what sells. We have one chance to make a first impression.

If you create a presentation – everything has to be consistent with its message. If something is not consistent, the audience experiences cognitive dissonance. You can say something is innovative, but the audience’s emotional side will tell them that it does not feel like that.

Using persuasion for good

So how can you make your audience do what you would like them to do?
First, use your powers for good. Second, you need engagement.

Mike tells us a metaphor he likes from Jonathan Haidt’s book “The Happiness Hypothesis” – our brain consists of two parts, an elephant, and a rider. The rider is the intellectual, and the elephant is the emotional part.

Scientists have proved that the elephant is always awake and learning, but the rider is often asleep. The elephant wakes the rider up only when there is something of value. To truly engage people, you must focus on the elephant first and the rider second.

Decision making

Pain, gain, or fear are the only things that motivate the elephant to wake up the rider. It is also gain if the pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same.

After we provide the reason for the rider to wake up, we move on to the second step – the questioning of which path to take now. This step has three branches – trust, ego, and value.

Focus on engaging people emotionally first, and then provide the evidence. The rider, the intellectual, and the analytical have to agree with the evidence. Provide the proof for the emotion. But Mike says that from trust, ego, and value, value is the only one the rider gets engaged to make a decision.

Contrast is king

We all have heard the phrase “Content is king”. Mike tells us that we are living in an at-a-glance society where people are not requesting information, they require it.

If we go to a website and not find what we are looking for pretty fast – we get out of there.

When we hear or see something unique, it engages us. Thus in Mike’s opinion Contrast is actually king because things that are different make people pay attention to them.

If it looks like something people have seen over and over, the brain automatically tunes out.

Outlining your presentation, the right way

Mike tells us that the most common problem when creating an outline is that you are not thinking about engaging emotionally but directly creating the intellectual content you want to communicate.

Do not focus on what you want to say, focus on what the audience needs to hear and understand.

Mike adds that people often practice inefficiently because they approach it in an ad-hoc matter instead of a process.

3 simple rules to follow

1. Know what you want to say before you say it.
2. Be authentic. The audience can sense when something is off.
3. Practice out loud.

In our heads, we sound really good but then when we say it and hear it, it is a mess. It is okay to make mistakes and know how to recover from them. In general, it is okay, and you have to own it as nobody is going to make a big deal out of it.

The most high-level executives are the people that rehearse, which means that the busiest people find time for it. And when you say someone is a good speaker or a talented one – they have worked very hard to make it seem easy. They are people who have failed forward and worked out what works for them.

The book

Do-It-Yourself Billion Dollar Graphics is a book full of best practices, it contains the things that you want to do the right way for any presentation.

Mike says that you can easily throw away what does not work for you and keep the lessons that do.

The book comes with free PowerPoint graphics that you can use immediately for your content and gives you a set full of tools.


Contact Mike at info@billiondollargraphics.com. Check out his website Billion Dollar Graphics or 24 Hour Company, his YouTube channel, personal LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

He also shares –

Build-a-Graphic (turn text into professional graphics in PowerPoint and use anywhere)
Graphic Cheat Sheet (PDF to help you pick the best graphic for your needs)
Graphic Cheat Sheet (examples of different graphic types to get ideas)
Billion Dollar Graphics ebook (+200 graphics)
PowerPoint book (+100 graphics)

Listen to the full episode!

YouTube video