profit from speaking visual aids

Add Impact To Your Presentation With Visual Aids

Through my years of working with speakers, I found there are 2 categories of speakers: those who love PowerPoint and those who don’t love it… well to be honest, in that case the feelings toward it are usually stronger;  “I hate  PowerPoint” isn’t an unusual reaction when I suggest to a speaker to use it.

But love or hate PowerPoint, it leads us to a valuable discussion about the use of visual aids. With technology so readily available, it’s easy to overlook other types of visual aids that can also greatly enhance your presentation.

Why is the use of visual aids important at all if you present a polished, well prepared speech? By using visual aids, you are helping your audience to understand concepts easier and retain the information you present better. Different people have different learning styles, and while your oral presentation will be well received by auditory members of your audience, adding visual aids will help those who are visual learners.

There are many different types of visual aids you can use in your presentation including:

  • PowerPoint
  • Flip Charts
  • Props
  • Handouts

Whichever visual aid you are choosing to use, keep in mind they’re meant to support your presentation, not distract from it.

Let’s look at each of them, their dos and don’ts; and how they can help you enhance your presentation:

PowerPoint Visual Aid

Personally, I love PowerPoint (that’s probably why I put it first on the list J) and I choose to use it in my presentations whenever possible. I am a very visual person, so often creating my slide deck inspires my content.

Dos and Don’ts:

  • Do create colourful visuals to enhance your presentation
  • Use images relevant to your slide content (for example a photo of a speaker presenting a PowerPoint presentation when speaking about PowerPoint). You can use “out of left field” images, they can be very powerful when they are accompanied by a good story.
  • Don’t mix more than 2-3 fonts in your presentation – keep continuity throughout your slide deck.
  • Don’t use distracting effects such as swirling stars or text bouncing into your slide letter by letter.
  • Remember that there is no extra cost to create extra slides – aim for no more than 4-5 lines of text/slide
  • Focus on presenting only key words or key phrases on your slides – it’s distracting for your audience if they are expected to read your speech word for word on the screen as you speak (and it’s a terrible idea if you do that and then forget a few words – everyone will spot your mistake).
  • Your PowerPoint presentation can serve as your cue card if you forget what to say next.
  • It’s ok to turn your screen off during part of your presentation, using PowerPoint doesn’t mean your need to show slides throughout your whole presentation.
  • Test your presentation before you are getting up to speak and check off this list:
    • Are all the transitions working ok?
    • Is the text large enough to see from the back of the room?
    • Are all your AV connections working properly?
    • Does your remote work – and do you have fresh batteries in it? (yes, unfortunately I am speaking from experience… running PowerPoint slides doesn’t work well when you don’t have a working remote and you have to walk back to your laptop every time you want to advance a slide).

Flipchart Visual Aid

A flip chart allows you to create visual aids ahead of your presentation, but you can also use it on-the-go while you speak to create impromptu visuals.

Dos and Don’ts:

  • Think about what you want written on your pages ahead of your audience arriving – and which parts of this content you want to be visible to your audience. To cover parts of your content, you can use large Post-It notes of pieces of paper with removeable tape.
  • Ensure your flipchart has enough empty pages for the impromptu content you want to create
  • Ensure you have enough different coloured markers on hand (and test them to make sure they work and are not faded). Strong, dark colours work better for viewing from a distance (for example if you want to use yellow, use it to highlight something, but not to write text).
  • Often speakers will only write on every second page of a flipchart to avoid bleed through of the markers.
  • Be honest with yourself about the legibility of your handwriting. If that is a challenge, consider using printed letters only, or ask someone to do the writing for you.
  • Avoid turning your back to your audience. Depending on the setup of your stage, you may be able to turn your flipchart on a slight angle to face your audience with your side instead of your back. This is especially critical if you are writing for more than a few seconds and then turn back to them.
  • Have a helper to write on the flipchart if much writing is needed. If you don’t have a helper from your team, ask an audience member to join you on stage to help – it’s just another way you can create engagement. Be sure to thank them (or have a little gift for them) and give them a round of applause at the end.
  • Remember you don’t need to be a talented artist to draw on your flip chart. A stick figure explaining a concept or outlined steps with a single word on each level to demonstrate a process can be very powerful without having to look perfect.
  • A flip chart gives you the ability to be in the moment with your visual aids with answers from your audience including making pro and con lists or working with one audience member as an example for an upcoming exercise on stage.

Props Visual Aid

I’m not suggesting you’re putting on a funny hat to get your audience’s attention, but using appropriate props in your presentation can be a powerful tool for creating a memorable presentation. I remember many years ago a friend was giving a presentation at a breakfast networking meeting where he explained how humans conduct energy – and he had all of us stand in a large circle and hold hands to complete a circuit, lighting up a special light bulb he had brought. It was a powerful demonstration – and a perfect example how a prop transformed an abstract concept into a memorable event.

Dos and Don’ts:

  • Do choose your props to enhance your speech, not to distract from it.
  • Ensure that your props are large enough to be seen from the back of the room; and if you are using them in an interactive way, that they suit the size of your audience.
  • Practice your speech with your props to ensure a smooth transition.
  • Be strategic about where to place your props prior to using them – do you want have them visible to raise curiosity or do you choose to hide them out of sight until you reveal them as a surprise?

Handouts Visual Aid

I like using handouts in presentations for 2 main reasons: they are an interactive visual aid that engages my audience while at the presentation and people will take these visual aids with them after my speech. This will allow them to refer back to the material (and hopefully it will inspire them to take action on their new knowledge). The big bonus for me is that this handout of course is branded with my logo, contact information and website address, acting not only as a visual aid, but also as a sales tool.

Dos and Don’ts:

  • Create your handouts with your speaking location in mind. For example, a single sheet handout where audience members need to make notes or answer questions is easier to write on when they sit at tables vs. sitting in rows of chairs with not sturdy surface to write on.
  • Decide when to hand out your handouts. You could have them at your audience’s seats at the beginning of your presentation or you can choose to have them handed out during your presentation (be sure to arrange for helpers if it’s a larger group to not interrupt the flow of your speech).
  • Create your handouts with the end goal in mind – what do you want your audience to do with it? I don’t mind handouts where I need to fill in content as the speaker presents it, but I once found myself in a presentation where the handouts were created in a way that we needed to fill in the blanks with specific words in sentences the speaker was saying and the only clue we had were the first letters of these words. This quickly became distracting as neither I nor the people around me could keep up on filling in those blanks and we started talking to each other to try and decipher the missing words. To be honest I have no idea what the speaker was saying after that.

I want to encourage you to mix various visual aids in your presentations – for example you can use a flipchart alongside a PowerPoint slide deck. Experiment what compliments your speaking style and which visual aids you enjoy using. Above all, remember, all visual aids are there to support your speaking, not make your life more difficult.

I believe in you,



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