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Use Visual Aids to Enhance ... Not Destroy ... Your Presentations
by Chris King

Visual aids can add a new dimension to our presentations. When used properly they will enhance our presentation and make it memorable. When used improperly, however, they will distract from our impact as presenters. They will not only bore and confuse our audiences, they will also put them to sleep.

I have attended more presentations than I even want to think about where the speaker somehow felt that he or she must use PowerPoint slides. It is a fabulous program and when used properly can spark up any presentation. However, only about 10 per cent of the presenters use it properly, so beware!

Use a variety of visual aids. We agree that visual aids will add a new dimension to our presentations, but which ones should we use. I suggest incorporating many. It will keep your presentation interesting and lively. Having flip charts around the room that audience participants move to for various feedback exercises that involve them; using slides with more graphics than words or even relative cartoons; posters; useful handouts; and props that serve as metaphors can all work together to hold attention.

Use PowerPoint with care. With the advent of high tech tools today, it is easy to turn to presentation programs like PowerPoint, use the templates, and voila! you have your whole presentation on slides. Yes, I have experienced many well executed and exciting presentations where the speaker made excellent use of this approach. I have also experienced more presentations where the speaker depended upon his/her slides for the whole presentation. They were loaded with too much information or too many animated distractions for us to understand what the speaker wanted us to take away from the presentation. Also, if you depend for your whole presentation on PowerPoint, that will be the day when something goes wrong and it doesn’t work. Always have a backup plan!

Keep it simple. The time-tested KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) formula works for visual aids as well as our whole approach to speaking. First of all, if you must use words on a slide or overhead, use the rule of six-by-six: there should be no more than six lines of text on each slide and no line of text should have more than six words on it. This not only helps with making the important point, but also helps with visibility. A page of text on a slide or overhead can be a complete turn-off and the “kiss of death.”

Master the use of projected images. Whether we are using a high tech program, a slide projector, or an overhead projector, we should handle these professionally. First, know your stuff — don’t face the image, having the back of your head to the audience members as you read to them. If you have extra material to share in between images, turn off the image, or cover it with a sheet of paper, so that the attention is on you. Don’t walk in front of the projection, so that your silhouette appears on screen. All of these faux pas scream “amateur.” If there is any way to avoid turning off the lights — dimming certain lights might be an alternative — do it. When a room is darkened, it is almost an invitation to participants to take a nap.

Prepare the space for your visuals. I can’t stress enough the importance of arriving early for every presentation, and if there is any way possible to prepare the room where you will be presenting, take it over and do it. If the visuals don’t work, or if the participants can’t see them, or if the setup makes everyone uncomfortable, it will be you, the presenter, who is blamed, not the people who initially set up the room. Be assertive and make it work. If you have to call for people to help or for an extra stand or table, do it. I know one speaker who arrives more than an hour early, checks everything, and even tapes off the back rows, so people need to sit up front. He even tapes the doors, so that if attendees show up late, the sound of doors opening and closing won’t be distracting.

Practice, practice, practice with your visuals. Besides the initial preparation of the visuals, spend many hours before your presentation practicing the use of your visual aids. The added anxiety of the actual presentation can add to making us appear unfamiliar or “klutzy” which will be distracting. Being ready will make visual aids fun and invigorating for both you and your participants.

Go for it!







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