What Visual Aids Should I use?

Speakers have become accustom to relying on visual aids, specifically PowerPoint to make presentations, using them as external memory prompts, crutches upon which to rest their speech in case they forget what they should say. Speakers that rely on visual aids do so at the expense of our objective to engage our audience, the audience’s attention is pulled between the visual aid and the speaker and the speaker’s attention is pulled back and forth between the audience and the slides. Moreover many speakers spend most of their preparation time ‘putting together the deck/slides’, at the expense of all other considerations.

“Visual aids are a guaranteed distraction from you, they’re not guaranteed to work for you.”

Guy Kawasaki came up with a useful 10, 20, 30 rule for the use of visuals aids in presentations:

  • 10 slides maximum
  • 20 minute presentation maximum
  • 30 font size minimum (to reduce the number of words shown on each slide

Story Book

Though this is helpful I would be more pragmatic. If you wish to disseminate facts do this after the speech or through your story rather than via visual aids. Factual visual aids represent a guaranteed distraction from your talk while there is no guarantee the audience will assimilate the facts. Instead, if you do want to use slides use them as aids for making your speech more memorable, use rich, novel images that emphasise your points. I recommend using visual aids as storybooks use sketches, they should be infrequent and illustrate your point, bringing to life your speech.

NOVEL IMAGES WORK BEST

It is also worth noting visuals aids can be one of the greatest risks to any speech. I have seen many speakers unable to give their speech without their visual aids. Suffice to say this does not impress the audience one bit; you should not put yourself forward to speak if you cannot deliver your speech without visual aids and you should always be prepared to speak without visual aids.

A point on PowerPoint: In his book ‘How PowerPoint Makes You Stupid’, Franck Frommer highlights how PowerPoint has changed organisational communication, he argues while it does not lessen people’s intelligence, it does bring meetings down to performances, following a linear format like a mini-documentary and injecting emotion into an otherwise rational exercise. I agree PowerPoint introduces a format that encourages an audience to assess not just the content but also the presenter as a performer. And until PowerPoint is replaced by another application it is all the more reason to hone your skills as a persuasive presenter.

Props, flip charts, projectors and screens all count as visuals aids.

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