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Graphic Aids in Communications

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In the modern business world of intense competitiveness, business organizations have to constantly change their internal processes to build and maintain a competitive edge. However these competitive strategies will turn into failures unless the businesses are able to communicate the value of these strategies to both internal and external stakeholders. The most important internal stakeholders are employees and the board of directors while the most important external stakeholders are the customers and the government. The business organization must be able to communicate effectively and efficiently with all these stakeholders in order to be able to run its operations profitably. However this framework of the importance of communications in a stakeholder analysis is not limited to just the business organizations.

All organizations are dependent on a number of external and internal stakeholders for the smooth running of their operations. Therefore an efficient and effective communications systems is a must for all organizations, for profit or otherwise. This importance arises from the conflicting interests that motivate different stakeholders. For example, the board of directors in a business organization might want to change the existing process chains in order to reduce their costs while the employees might resist this change. Effective and efficient communications between the two stakeholder groups is the only way out from this situation. However when it comes to selling something particularly, such as the board of directors selling change to the employees, using graphic devices in communications becomes a critical issue.

All business decisions have to be weighed in terms of their costs and benefits. As a result, when it comes to developing communications materials, business decision makers tend to look askance at including visual representations which tend to be expensive. For example, when the management of a business organization is planning to implement the balanced scorecard system in measuring performance, it will have to explain to the employees what the balanced scorecard is using a graphic which explains the four perspectives of the balanced scorecard. However the challenge in this case is not to include the graphics in the sales pitch, but to use the kind of graphics which will appeal to the audience. Therefore the management will have to devote a considerable level of its resource to developing the right graphic devices. Once the conceptual phase is complete, the execution phase starts. In this phase, the management most likely implements the practice of outsourcing and hires a third party to develop the communications materials. This once again involves the deployment of resources, this time, financial resources. For these reasons, using graphic aids in communications involves a resource-intensive process which the management of a business organization is reluctant to undertake.

One frequent complaint against the use of graphic devices is that when it comes to a cost comparison between a single page of straight text and a single page with both textual and graphic components, a single page of straight text is always more cost efficient. However this comparison is flawed because graphic aids should not be dependent upon text or vice versa. Therefore the graphic components should illustrate the concept on their own. The best use of graphic aids is in that framework where the use of graphics eliminates several pages of straight text from the communications. As a result, when assessing the cost-effectiveness of including graphic aids, the management should be aware of the fact that merely comparing one page of straight text with one page of graphics is not enough.

The management should think twice about using graphic aids only in scenarios where the inclusion of graphics seems to make no difference to the number of pages to the audience. For example, if the audience happens to be the employees of the organization and the management is communicating to them company performance in different regions of the country in the last four quarters, then using charts could make the material more accessible to the employees. Before the start of the design of the presentation materials in this case, the task to complete would be to understand what stylistic presentation would be most suitable for the employees given their educational and professional backgrounds. No matter what they may be, the management would have to include visual devices in order to get the message across. However the backgrounds would determine what sort of visual devices to use. In the present scenario, in trying to analyze market shares in different parts of the country, the management might make use of this chart:

Figure 1: Illustrating market share trends using bar graphs

The management might also make use of a line chart instead to present the same information:

Figure 2: Illustrating market share trends using line chart

            The challenge in the scenario above is to select the chart that illustrates trends in market share more efficiently and effectively. In business presentations of this nature, the presenter might also make of other graphic devices such as the one below which seeks to illustrate the process of designing the right performance measurement system:

Figure 3: Generic PMS design approach. Source: Carpinetti and Melo, 2002

            The graphic aids discussed so far all belong to drawings category. However there is another category of graphic aids which adds credibility to the content of the presentation. These graphics aids are photographs. For example, if the purpose of the presentation is to convince the client to buy warehouse facilities, then the salesman would find it easier to communicate to the client the different facilities available with a photograph. The photographs tell the story that already exists as opposed to drawings which tell the story as the presenter envisions it. However both categories of visual or graphic aids enhance the content of the presentation by making it much more accessible to the audience.

            As mentioned before, the presenter has to research extensively the characteristics of the audience before he can prepare the right kind of graphic aids. Most presenters simply use graphics aids because it is the right thing to do so and not because the communications content needs those aids. As a result, there are many instances in which the use of graphics aids actually hampers the process of communication because the graphics are misleading. However that possibility can be avoided if the writer or the presenter can customize the content of his communications material to the audience in such a way that the use of graphic aids actually enhances the process instead of hampering it.


Bovee, Court., and John V. Thill. (2007). Business Communication Todays. McGraw


Carpinetti, Luiz C. R. and Alexandre M de Melo. (2002). What to Benchmark.

Benchmarking: An International Journal, 9, 244-255.

Guffey, Mary Ellen. (2004). Essentials of Business Communication. McGraw Hill/Irwin.

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