There are a few key elements to a great presentation: write minimal text, choose legible fonts, and, most importantly, use visuals! The impact of visual content is well-documented: 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, it’s processed 60,000 times faster than text, and 40% of people pay more attention to visuals than plain text.

But how do you put concepts like “ROI” or “industry benchmark” or “cloud-based” into images? When it comes to business and its industries, you must use out-of-the-box thinking to find images that can accurately convey the information at hand. One such out-of-the-box method is to use literary devices — the creative tools that shape language in our favorite stories — in the search for images.

Here are 8 literary devices that will help you take on the image hunt with a new perspective.


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Connotations are a device that hinge on shared associations. All words have a denotation, or an actual dictionary meaning, but many also have a connotation, or a perceived meaning shared among many people.

When you’re stuck in your image search, think beyond the denotation of a word to find the connotation, or the cultural and emotional meaning behind it. This expanded meaning can help you think of new image subjects to include in your search. For example, the slide above shows a crocus, but the meaning goes beyond those six letters: It can represent spring, renewal, delicacy, and a slew of other things.


Personification is a device that lets you assign human characteristics, emotions, or actions to non-human animals or inanimate objects. This commonly used device is the vehicle behind widely recognized literary phrases like “weeping willow,” “wise owl,” and “whispering wind.”

Think about this device if you’re having trouble finding images of people, as you can depict human emotions or actions with pictures of animals or objects. For example, a lion, typically characterized as proud, can help you depict pride or stoicism, while a cheetah can help you communicate speed and agility.



You can think of an archetype as a stock character — an identifiable character type that shows up in almost every story. Common archetypes include the damsel in distress, the young hero, and the wise old man.

Archetypes can help you find imagery of people, especially if you’re trying to communicate a specific type of person; this is often the case for marketing professionals who work with market segments. A fashionable young man can be representative of trend-conscious millennials, while an image of an athlete in the city can symbolize the healthy urbanite crowd.



Hyperboles are all about exaggeration. When your coworker says, “that was the longest meeting in the history of time,” they are speaking in hyperbole (unless the meeting actually was the longest ever recorded).

Thinking in exaggerated terms can help you find striking and emotionally captivating images for your presentation. Many photographers choose to “exaggerate” design elements, such as in cross-processed photos that increase exposure for a colorful and nostalgic look, or black and white photos, which increase contrast for a dramatic effect.


Mood and Tone

Mood and tone are two separate devices that work in conjunction: Mood is the general atmosphere of a piece, while tone is the attitude you have towards a piece as you create it. Take The Great Gatsby, for example: Author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tone is largely cynical, and the mood created is pessimistic and tragic.

Thinking both in terms of your own attitude and the attitude you want the audience to experience can help you conceptualize an entire presentation and choose more specific images. Consider the mood of your selected images, and whether they work together or conflict with each other. In the slide below, the architectural image is symmetrical with pleasing warm tones, creating a balanced and even peaceful mood for the audience.



In synecdoche, the whole is represented by its parts: For example, a car can be referred to as “wheels,” or a nation’s appointed King can be called “the crown.” Similarly, a whole can be used to represent any one of its parts, such as a statement made by “the White House.”

With this in mind, you can break down large concepts into their unique parts, or vice versa, and represent them visually. In an education-focused presentation, a hallway of lockers can represent the school as a whole — not just the building, but the student body as well.



This device comes from a neurological phenomenon of the same name, from which sufferers experience senses — sight, taste, smell, touch, and sound — in combination with each other. A common manifestation is experiencing numbers as having colors, or hearing sound with color and patterns. As a literary device, synesthesia refers to the linking of senses in a description.

Think like a synesthete when choosing images for your slides, especially when it comes to background images. Consider the words and ideas in your presentation — do they inherently trigger colors, shapes, or sounds in your mind? It’s a fun experiment to do yourself, and it can help narrow down the vast library of images at your fingertips.



It doesn’t get more basic than symbols; in fact, most of the devices mentioned above are variations on symbolism. A symbol has a clear literal meaning, but also layers of other meanings that must be uncovered. Logos are common symbols, and some of the best have several layers of meaning. The FedEx logo is merely the company name at face value, but it also contains a hidden arrow that adds another layer to its meaning.

When you’re at a loss for imagery, think of universal symbols that will communicate your message. Need to show success? A person scaling a mountain is a typical symbol that many audiences will understand. Want to communicate a sense of industry and business? Try an image of a production line or a skyscraper. Tap into your shared consciousness, and don’t be afraid to go beyond commonplace symbols.