Originally Published on The Age, 5 Mar 2007
If you want to be remembered, keep visual aids simple and stimulating.
HOW many times has a speech been ruined for you by a PowerPoint presentation that is too small to read, too busy to read or too full of distractions for you to focus on the speaker? How many times has someone held up a picture that is flashed around too quickly? How many times has the aid been a hindrance not an asset?
Firstly, what is a visual aid? It is anything that you use to make a point clearer. It can be a picture, a book, a drawing on a whiteboard, a demonstration, or PowerPoint.
Here are a few tips for making visual aids work for you rather than distracting or memerising your audience. Remember that the aid is just that: an aid, not a substitute for you.
· Keep visual aids, such as PowerPoint, to a minimum. Ideally about one every three minutes is good. T hey should be simple, clear and colourful and, above all, relevant to the point you are making. The best slides are charts and pictures that make the words easier to understand. Remember, some of the greatest speeches in the world were delivered without visual aids.
· Visuals must be seen by everyone in the audience. They need to be large enough and you must not block anyone’s view by standing in front of them. Be careful about handing things around while you talk. It can be done, but if you are showing photos or a magazine, participants will become distracted and they may not listen to you.
· You should only talk about a point while the visual aid is up. Once you have finished with the topic to which the visual aid is relevant, put it down or get it off the screen. T his is best done by using a blank slide, if you are using PowerPoint. You can press the B button on the laptop or build blank slides into the computer show.
· If you want to hold up a picture or object, it may be better to use a volunteer or assistant rather than hold and talk at the same time. When you hold the picture or prop, you cannot gesticulate. And once you have shown it, remember to put it down and go on talking. When you show a picture, move it very slowly around the room. If you are too quick, some of the audience will not see it and will become distracted, even annoyed.
· Don’t turn your back to talk about a visual aid. It may be on a whiteboard, or screen, but you don’t need to look at it. The audience does. Your job is to keep looking at them. That way you can judge how long they need to see it and what their reaction is.
· Finally, remember, you are the focus. Some people hide behind visual aids or use far too many. They are an aid, not the talk. Accept that it is you and your message that are important and work on your own presentation skills
· Don’t forget to ensure the equipment for the aid is working. There’s no point in turning up with a PowerPoint presentation if there is no screen or no overhead projector with a working light.
Whatever aids you use, there is no substitute for a clearly spoken, well-structured, confidently delivered talk. Never think you can give a great talk by filling it with visuals.
Remember, Martin Luther King used no visuals, no PowerPoint and no gimmicks when he delivered his “I have a dream” speech. But he had passion and belief and many powerful metaphors, delivered with variety, eloquence and courage.