Department of Communication

Using Visual Aids

Visual aids can powerfully help the effectiveness of a speech. Many speeches benefit from having objects, images, key quotes, or data presented in a clear and dramatic fashion. Visual aids vary in kind, but there are similar benefits and tips for dealing with any kind of supplementary evidence that is shown to an audience.

Reasons to Use Visual Aids

Types of Visual Aids

People

Maps

Objects

Charts
-flow
-tree
-sequence
-pictographs
-flip

Graphs
-pie
-bar
-line

Photographs, Pictures, Diagrams, Sketches

Projected Images
-overhead projectors
-Powerpoint presentation
-film

Tips for Using Visual Aids

Stand to the side of the visual aid. Do not obscure the visual aid if at all possible. Traditionally, speakers have the visual aid on their left.

Maintain eye contact. While the visual aid will be tempting to many speakers, the audience should still be their main focus. When a speaker loses eye contact, they often end up turning their back to the audience. A SPEAKER SHOULD NEVER TURN THEIR BACK TO AN AUDIENCE.

Introduce a visual aid before talking about the information contained in it. Giving background on where the information for the visual aid was obtained from provides the audience with more resources for understanding the content of the speech.

Practice with a visual aid. The visual aid adds an additional focus for the audience, and the speaker should be able to effectively and smoothly interact with the aid to minimize distractions. Experience with one type of visual aid (a Powerpoint presentation, for example) does not necessarily provide the resources to deal with others (showing how to tie a shoe).

Make sure the visual aid supports the message. Consistency between what is being said and what is being seen is crucial to a speaker's credibility.

Supplement, do not supplant, the speech with the visual aid. Do not allow the visual aid to overwhelm the speech itself. Visual aids are not crutches to lean on, but rather lampposts to illuminate.

Ensure the logistics of the setting are conducive to the visual aid. Make sure that everyone can see the visual aid, that any electronic equipment necessary for the visual aid is functioning (and that the speaker knows how to operate it), and that the visual aid is set up before the speech (there's few things worse for an audience then having to wait while a speaker fiddles with their equipment.)

Point out key elements in the visual aid, especially if it is complicated. Pictures, charts, graphs, and some objects, are often so complex, with so much "going on," that the audience might need to be directed to the area of the visual aid that the speaker is referencing.

Avoid distributing materials before the speech. If there are supporting materials to assist the audience, they should be passed out either before or after the speech. Failing to do so will delay the speech, lead to much unnecessary rustling of paper, and is an unnecessary distraction.

Limit lists. If the visual aid utilizes lists to communicate the central ideas of the speech, do not overwhelm the audience with endless lists on one slide or page. Generally, only five items should be on any single slide or page of a visual aid.

Remember that simplicity is a good design principle. Do not overload a visual aid with unnecessary information, color, font changes, or superfluous images.