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A Little Perspective

by guest blogger Renee Calvert

Imagine, if you will, a movie. This movie is about a young woman who, after being traumatically separated from her family, finds herself in a foreign land. Her first act in this new place is to kill a woman who lives there and abscond with the dead woman’s prized possessions. Next, she is encouraged to journey to a nearby city to seek out a con-man who can help her. But when she arrives, the con-man refuses to help her, until he realizes what she can do for him. Now, in order to get back to her family, the young woman must kill again.

Sounds intense, right? What are you picturing – a violent action thriller starring a sneering action hero and a bevy of CGI explosions? A psychological horror film exploring the destruction of the innocence of youth? Or a whimsical Technicolor fantasy full of talking animals, witches and magic shoes?

Pat yourself on the back if you guessed the last one, because the movie I described is “The Wizard of Oz.”

It’s all about composition. The words you use to communicate your point act in the same way that a composition of a picture does to steer people’s attention in one way or another. Just as a director would convey to you a sense of unease and smallness by tilting the shot and placing the camera below the subject (to make the subject appear huge as though looming over us), so do the words you choose impact how your meaning is received and understood.

How often have you missed others’ meanings because you weren’t looking at the shot from the same angle they were? Conversely, how often have your meanings been missed because you didn’t let others know what your angle was?

In art, composition is everything. If you have the wrong angle, the wrong contrast, the wrong perspective or the wrong design, what you are trying to present visually is lost. But composition of your words can be just as easily bungled… So let’s take this opportunity for a crash course in composition and learn a few things from the art world about speaking to others.

1. Perspective

In art, perspective is when you make objects larger to give the illusion that they are closer to the camera. Objects further away are made smaller. Additionally, the use of lines that all recede to a certain point creates the appearance of everything being grounded on the same surface. If you don’t put things in alignment with these points, or if you make something too big or too small, it doesn’t look like it’s in the same space as the rest of the image. Composition can be used in such a way to indicate what’s more important in a shot. The lines to the vanishing point (the point that everything recedes to) act as arrows pointing to what’s most important, even if it isn’t the largest thing in the picture.

When you speak, be careful that you aren’t over- or under-emphasizing something, and that what you’re trying to emphasize isn’t out of alignment with the direction of your point. Otherwise, it’ll feel misplaced and will confuse your listener.

2. Contrast

In art, the focal point is where the artist wants you to look first. There’s a lot of different ways an artist can accomplish this (Perspective is one.). A very clear indicator is contrast, or where in the drawing there is the highest difference between dark shades and light shades. It’s why you go cross-eyed when you seetext that looks like this… the grey is so close to the white background in value that your eyes can’t handle it and don’t know where to look. Your eye instinctively goes to the point of greatest contrast and where there’s too much (or not enough) contrast, it doesn’t know what it’s looking for.

People tend to get confused when everything you say is too much or too little. If every word is THE MOST IMPORTANT WORD YOU WILL EVER SAY, how will we know what’s actually important? Temper your high-contrast words with some subtlety – then, when something really is important, others will understand what your focus is by your emphasis.

3. Camera Angle

Simply put, where you place the camera can completely change what story is being told. Straight on, it’s pretty vanilla. From a low angle – what’s sometimes called a worm's-eye view – everything looks looming and imposing. From a high angle, we’re placed above or distanced from what’s going on below us. A wide angle creates a sense of space and vastness, but a close-up can create a feeling of intimacy or even of being uncomfortably close. Where you position the camera (and subsequently, the viewer) informs the narrative and how we’re supposed to feel about what’s going on in the picture.

Likewise, how you set up a verbal expression will also inform how your recipient is supposed to feel. Just as I used words like “kill,” “con-man” and “traumatically” to conjure a much grittier mental image than the warm-fuzzies truth of “Wizard of Oz,” the kinds of words and the tone you use will similarly color how your message is received. Be sure that the way you frame your intentions doesn’t occlude your meaning.

4. Design

This one is a little more subtle, but let me put it to you like this – Batman does not look like My Little Pony and My Little Pony does not look like Batman. These characters are drawn the way they are to instantly express what they are, and what they represent. Batman is a dark, often grim comic about crime, punishment and guilt, and My Little Pony is a cartoon for children that focuses on kindness and friendship (and features brightly colored talking horses). Imagine if they were drawn like each other – Batman in soft, round shapes with big eyes or Twilight Sparkle with realism, thick lines and detailed shading. Hilarious as that sounds, you could not tell the kind of story that typically goes with these two series if the characters consistently were drawn with the “wrong” design, because no one would take them seriously.

What words are you choosing that don’t fit, or skew the design of your meaning? Be sure that, as you’re setting up your case (whatever it may be) you’re choosing what you say with care to ensure that you achieve the greatest level of understanding.

Composition is crucial when creating a work of art, because it’s how the artist communicates intention to the audience. After all, in visual media, you don’t always get the opportunity to stand next to your work and explain it to everyone, so the meaning has to be patently clear on first glance. And this is also true of what you communicate verbally – once your words are said, you can call take-backsies all you want, but it’s like putting toothpaste back into the tube. So when you have something important to say, take the time to properly compose your communication, and ensure your meaning is 100% clear to your audience.

CONNECT 2 Lead graphic smalRenee Calvert is the Creative Projects Manager at People First Productivity Solutions. As an animator and graphic designer, Renee is in charge of the visual design for PFPS.  As a leader, it’s imperative to understand why and how to show ever person that you care about them. Learn more about how you can CONNECT2Lead. And Subscribe to our weekly CONNECT2Lead Newsletter for special offers, content, and blog.