The Interactive Image (Part 3 - The Common Image)

People will forget what you said,
people will forget what you did,
but people will never forget how you made them feel.
— Maya Angelou

In a previous blog, we discussed the audience's image as an interactive image. Now we will move onto the third method.

The third method of the 'interactive image' is the 'common image'. This special method has several features and benefits that warrant separate discussion.

A simple way to use this third interactive method is to hand each person a deck of cards, with each card containing an image. Give them a topic, such as, "What do you believe are some of the characteristics of a good leader?" Ask them to look through the deck of images to find four pictures they believe represent the characteristics. Get them to place them on the table after a few minutes. When they finish, have them talk about their choices.

Using common images in this way is fun and:

  • Reduces tension and encourages full participation. All members recognise that they have the same tool for expression as their colleagues and feel on par with the other members, regardless of the levels of experience or rank.
  • Encourages and simplifies comparisons between group members.
  • Quickly highlights common choices and unique choices across a group.
  • Helps the group agree quickly.
  • Enables discussion about priorities and preferences by individuals placing their choices in orders of preference before comparing them with others.
  • Promotes interest and respect for other people's perspectives.
  • It is fun.

To use the 'common image concept', a presenter could prepare their own set of images using reproductions or photographs and graphics. However, it is more practical and efficient to use a commercially available system - The Compatibility Communication System (CCS). The CCS developers coined the term 'common image communication concept', and their system provides everything the Persuasive Presenter needs to benefit from this approach in their presentations. You can find out more from their website, and from the case study below.

Case Study: State Street in Japan

When Vicky Karatasas, who is now the head of HR for the Commonwealth Bank, was at State Street as Vice President, Head of Leadership and Change - Europe, she was responsible for employee's career opportunities at a Regional level. This role brought many challenges as she managed staff development in a range of business and cultural contexts.

The following story is about Vicky's experiences presenting to a group of business people in Japan. The story illustrates the power of images to provoke thought, to break down barriers between people, and to promote communication.

Vicky travelled to Japan to run workshops with Japanese State Street employees. She had researched the local business culture in Japan and understood the Japanese are well-known for their work ethic and strong group relationships. She had also been advised that the Japanese participants were likely to be reluctant about voicing their difficulties and frustrations in front of their colleagues. She understood the participants were also unlikely to speak openly about their own underperformance or that of their colleagues. She was concerned because she knows that without frank and open communication, it would be difficult to solve the challenges facing the Japanese teams. Fortunately, Vicky used a creative technique, the CCS cards© involving images, to provoke constuctive, open discussion. She tells her story:


A picture paints a thousand words

The workshops and presentations that I gave in Japan were very important, from a business perspective. So, I developed a backup plan before I went to Japan, in case my initial queries about personal and group performance did not work. In the first workshop, when my questions were met with awkward silence, I realised I had been right to prepare a more creative ice-breaker.

I introduced my creative ice-breaker by distributing CCS cards to all the participants. I asked everyone to go through the pack and select a card that depicted something unique about themselves. After several minutes, I asked each participant to put their cards on the table and stand up and walk around the room, viewing everyone else's cards. I then asked each person to pick a card that had been selected by one their peers and share with the group what they interpreted it to mean.

One employee had selected a card with an image of an empty baseball diamond. His peer, who was asked to share his interpretation of the card, said the card probably represented the person's love of baseball. As it turned out, the card represented something completely different. The employee who had selected the card explained the image represented his ability to get his colleagues to work together, like a team. Sometimes it felt like they were not even on the same field! As the employee talked about this, he referred to the image, extending the metaphor to include reference to himself as the coach and his boss as the referee. Other employees commented that customers are actually referees because the customer has the final say on the success of the team. This provoked discussion about the different pressures and systems of accountability faced by employees.

As I watched, I realised the metaphor inspired by the image allowed the employee to talk about his work indirectly. It also captured the attention of his colleagues and prompted them to draw comparisons of their own experience.

When I asked this individual to share with the group what his biggest challenge was with the team, he quickly reached for a different card. It was an image of a marching band. He laughed and said he wanted to have all his team members marching to the same tune. Another colleague laughed and said, "I don't! I am tone deaf, so it would be a disaster". Everyone laughed. One by one, the participants shared their interpretations of the various images in a non-threatening, constructive atmosphere.

Since then, I have used the cards many times with people from diverse, cultural backgrounds. I think the creative use of images can break down barriers more effectively than most other methods.


Vicky comments the cards have worked for her in different cultural contexts. Imagine that you were asked to present to a group of doctors in Poland, or to a group of exchange students from China. What would an audience of Polish doctors expect? What would Chinese students expect? How would you begin preparing for this? Look at the lessons you can take from Vicky's story and adapt them to your own presentations.