How Visuals Help You Remember Information

Importance of Visuals in Messaging

Retention Comes through the Eye of the Beholder

Understanding how we remember information is key to getting your message to stick.

There’s an interesting test, often conducted in film school, of a director’s visual storytelling prowess.

Watch part of the movie (or all of it, if you’re so inclined) without sound.

It’s an experiment that rarely fails to shock. Some moments seem to lose nothing when stripped of their soundtrack. Others fall into total incoherence. In the ‘nothing lost’ camp sit examples like the frenetic early scenes of Home Alone or the first time Dorothy steps foot in Oz.

Across the aisle are examples where the missing dialogue and soundtrack seem to take our understanding with them (12 Angry Men or A Beautiful Mind).

Whether or not a soundtrack-free existence is proof of quality, the test tells us one thing unmistakably. The brain has a profound attachment to visual information, and the intelligent creator should make the most of this fact.

Though the power of the image seems to be stronger than the spoken word, the brain doesn’t make a binary choice.

Here at TruScribe, we don’t expect our clients to make one either.

We ensure that your video’s script and narrator are exactly who you prefer. We would never downplay the auditory portion of your messaging. Yet the reason we focus so much on visual storytelling is simple. The human mind’s preference is for information that it can see in a story.

Our images are anchors. They secure the narrative message deep in the viewer’s memory. They then give and giving that viewer an easy way to pull up and review the message.

You might have just witnessed a mini-motion picture while reading that last sentence.

Did you glimpse a ship’s anchor lowering a metaphorical memory into a cerebral sea-floor?

If you did, you experienced a perfect example of your brain’s natural preference for visualization.

These sort of brain movies can be instant and unconscious, or a learned strategy to remember information. They act as our brains’ way of setting up a mental camera and running a few frames past the shutter to help us process and remember what we’ve learned.

A TruScribe video makes information retention even easier by supplying images and motion in synchronization with audio information. Your brain barely needs to make mental movies. It’s already got all the information it needs to be secure and recall your message.

Your brain, then, is clearly primed to remember information through images—but why?

What do images do in the brain, and how are they so different from other stimuli?

We know that video’s utility in business is extremely high and getting higher, so it’s worth uncovering the reasons for this. For one, it seems that visual stimuli have many potential advantages for viewers including:

  • The power to stick in long-term memory and transmit messages faster than audio,
  • Its ability to improve comprehension, trigger emotions, and increase motivation in viewers,
  • Its strength in learning and retention.

Studies find visuals to improve learning by 400% and “increas[e] ‘human bandwidth’—the capacity to take in, comprehend, and more efficiently synthesize large amounts of new information.” Research by 3M recognized the astonishing speed at which the brain processes visuals—some 60,000 times faster than it does text.  

There’s also the emotional affective quality of the visual, a “faster and stronger reaction than words” that can influence retention through the brain’s physical storage structure: the visual center exists in the medial temporal lobe of the brain, which is where emotions are processed. 

Retention of information increases through the brain’s natural inclination towards imagery at the same time it increases through the brain’s natural tendency to remember emotional states.

If they are so powerful, then, how should images be best utilized in a whiteboard video? 

The answer is two-fold.  First, use images appropriately, as incorrect use of visuals can deter learning.  Secondly, they must maintain synchronization with the video’s narration.

Three kinds of clearly unproductive imagery noted in Karla Gutierrez’s piece on visuals in learning/retention include:

  • Pictures that are obviously stock photographs.
  • Generic graphics that display a clear lack of imagination.
  • Poor quality images that are pixelated, low-resolution, over-compressed or badly resized.

Such poor choices in imagery can splinter a viewer’s focus, confusing or frustrating them and leaving the scene’s intended message unheard or ignored.  The issue smacks of an authenticity gap—the more images feel unnatural or ill-fitting, the more their out-of-place design calls attention to itself and invites the viewer to speculate as to the reason for its inclusion. 

The issue is compounded by the brain’s desire to hold on to visual information—visual retention is still about 80% after 32 seconds, compared to auditory at just about 60%.  This statistic reminds us of the power of the visual, but also the danger of using such an effective tool to inadvertently drive home the wrong information.

The Combination of Audio and Visual Is Powerful

The other key to proper use of images in whiteboard video is to pair it with voiceover narration. Yes, audio retention alone is lesser than visual, but together, they encourage retention at a remarkable rate.

Visual information, packed with retainable information that the brain is wired to receive, only gets stronger when it supports a focused, effective script. 

A good metaphor might be a motorcycle: its body and colors communicate a massive amount of information, and there’s a lot that can be learned through the deconstruction of these standout design elements. But with an engine (a voiced script), the unit becomes powerfully functional.

Studies show that audio-only information has a retention rate of 10% after 72 hours. Visuals alone have a retention rate of 35%. But, combining the two yields a retention rate of 65% after the same period of time. That’s why our team works with you to get the best of both worlds. We ensure a hard-revving script, and the good-looking, thoughtfully designed images to carry its message home.

It’s fair to say that the movie-without-a-soundtrack test teaches us a lot, even if it implies a binary choice that clients and creators need not make. 

Our brains seek and prioritize visuals in learning and retention.

We tie visual storytelling to emotion to reinforce retention.

We even know that the brain creates its own ‘movies’ out of audio information in the absence of actual imagery. Yet, the fullest retention comes from a synthesis of visual and auditory storytelling. A motorcycle without an engine will hardly reach its destination, and a video without a script will hardly communicate the fullness of its message. 

If you want your content to be remembered, keep in mind the importance of images. Then, synchronize your images with a strong script and let the viewer absorb the full message.