Visual aids can enhance your presentation by helping to hold the audience's attention, reinforcing your message and help you remain focused as a speaker. A picture can be worth a thousand words, if it is a well chosen picture. They are there as tools to supplement your speaking skills—they are not ends in themselves. They can also be distracting and off-putting if used unskillfully. Visual aids can include flip charts, slides, transparencies, graphs and charts, pictures, videotape, tangible objects, physical gestures, and Power Point® or other computer generated presentation systems.
- Select visual aids thoughtfully. A visual aid must have a purpose that supports your objective. Know the purpose for which you are choosing a visual aid. Think of how the visual can make your point. Especially physical objects and pictures. Think of the story that the visual aid can and does tell. Think from the audience's perspective as to how they will interpret or understand the visual. Try not to offend.
- Design the visual with the audience and the room in mind. The first rule of visual aids is that they must be visible and accessible to everyone in the room. So know your audience and the room configuration. Be sure any print is big enough to be seen by all. Limit the amount of text on any visual to enhance visibility. If you are holding a visual aid, hold it high enough that it can be seen by all.
- Limit the number of visual aids and the points made by any visual. If you use too many, their impact can be diminished. Use them selectively and try to avoid using one after the other so they do not overwhelm or become repetitive and boring. Every visual aid should have a clear message. Visuals that use text should not make more than two to four points at the most.
- Have the visual aids prepared, ordered, and readily available. You should not have to interrupt the flow of your presentation to access your visual aids. This will require preparation and organization. You may wish to practice the use of visuals including how you will physically handle them. In preparing, you may realize difficulties that may arise in their use.
- Use visual aids in lieu of notes. A glance at your visual aid can serve as a prompt to you as to key points that you want to make in your presentation. By viewing the visual aid, you can get away from the lectern and your notes and enhance the flow of your presentation.
- Don't let the visual aid get between you and your audience. Do not let the visual become a distraction to your audience. For example, with projections, do not walk in front of the projected image. Do not point to or read a visual by turning your back to the audience. This will make it hard for them to hear you and will disconnect you from them. Do not place visuals so they obscure you or call attention away from you. Do not let the demands of certain technologies require you to work in the dark and be invisible to the audience. Some visual aids can be so glitzy and dazzling that they are more interesting to an audience than the content of your presentation or yourself. That is when the visual aids have overwhelmed the message and the speaker.
- Control when the visual aid is displayed to the audience. Do not leave the visual aid in public view prior to when you will be using it to make your point (unless you want to do just that). When you unveil your visual aid, be sure to leave it out long enough for the audience to see it and absorb it. Finally, when you have made your point with the visual aid, put it away.
- Have a backup plan for technical failures . . .which happen. When your visual aid requires the use of some technology (e.g. projector, VCR, monitor, computer, etc.) have a plan for a backup if the technology either fails or is otherwise unavailable to you. The backup may be redundant equipment or an alternative technology (e.g transparencies or handouts to backup a computer assisted Power Point® presentation).