No doubt you’ve heard the saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ – but it has to be the right picture selected for a particular purpose. Visual aids can be a great way to enhance your presentation – so long as you use them appropriately. Bear in mind they are no substitute for good communication. In this post I will outline why you should include visuals and give some tips on choosing and using them effectively.
Why use visual aids?
- To help your audience understand better and follow what you are saying.
- People tend to remember more of what they see than what they hear.
- To hold attention as they provide a different activity for your audience, not just listening.
- Images and diagrams are good for explaining complex information or processes.
- To act as prompts for the presenter (although only a secondary purpose).
What type of visuals should you use?
When preparing the content of your presentation the most important factor to bear in mind is your audience. The same applies to choosing visuals. What will help them understand your message? What will appeal to them? What will they find boring or annoying? How many people are in your audience? How formal do you have to be? Do you want to interact with your audience?
- YOU are the most important visual – your appearance, body language and facial expressions. No amount of visual aids will make the presentation for you.
- PowerPoint slides are widely used, but they aren’t your only option. Indeed some of the best presenters I’ve listened to didn’t show any slides at all.
- Well chosen props revealed at appropriate intervals can captivate your audience.
- Whiteboards or flip charts are good for an interactive presentation and can help you get ‘buy in’ from your audience.
- Handouts are useful for showing a detailed diagram that would not appear large enough on screen. Consider the best time to distribute handouts so they don’t distract the audience from what you are saying.
Seven tips for creating and using visual aids
- Plan carefully
Any type of visual you use should complement your presentation. Bear in mind your overall purpose, the subject matter, the size of your audience and the type of atmosphere you wish to create. If using PowerPoint have a backup plan in case technology lets you down. Bring paper copies of your slides, a flip chart and pens.
Allow plenty of time for set up on the day of your presentation. You really don’t need the added pressure of your audience watching while you wrestle with cables! Take a walk around the room to check that everyone will be able to see your visual aids and to judge the best place for you to position yourself.
- Make content simple, punchy and easy to read
Limit the number of words or points on slides. As a general guide, that means no more than 5 or 6 lines per slide; font size no smaller than size 24; an easy to read font such as Ariel. Don’t produce whole sentences, unless it’s a quotation.
- Choose colour and images for best impact
Choose colours carefully and be consistent. If showing slides in a darkened room, pale colours on a dark background are easiest to read. In well lit rooms, use a dark colour on a clear background. Best colours tend to be blue or black on a white background. Images or video clips should be high quality and relevant to your topic.
- Limit the number of slides
Follow the principle that ‘less is more’. No audience wants to sit through a seemingly endless slide show.
- Avoid distracting special effects
Most special effects do nothing to improve your presentation. Choose one slide transition option to suit your purpose. If you want to engage in discussion as you go along, you will probably find it best to show bullet points one at a time so that your audience cannot read ahead.
- Allow your audience time to look at slides
Allow your audience enough time to look at slides and to absorb information. Don’t leave the audience looking at a slide that does not relate to what you are saying. A handy tip when using PowerPoint is to select the letter ‘b’ on your keyboard to blank out the screen. (Left click or press any key to return to your presentation.)
- Talk to the audience not the screen
Don’t talk back to the screen. Keep facing your audience so that you maintain eye contact and your voice does not fade away. Have notes or prompt cards that you can glance at easily when you need to. Interact with the content on your visuals by pointing now and again to specific points or part of a diagram etc. Avoid standing in front of the screen or pointing in a way that creates distracting shadows.
Click here to read one of my previous posts on How to plan a presentation.