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How to use visual aids in your presentation

Visual aids for a presentation

Using visual aids in your presentation is a really important skill to learn. When used well, they add impact, reinforce key points and engage the audience. If used badly, they can completely kill a presentation.

PowerPoint (or Keynote on Mac) is the main software that people turn to when they are planning a presentation. I’ve given my tips before on making PowerPoint presentations more engaging, but there is a bigger issue to confront first: Monkeys.

People who have “Public Speaking Monkeys”™ – the negative, internal voices that put doubts in our mind about our presenting abilities – use PowerPoint incorrectly. People with a “you’ll look stupid” monkey try to avoid looking stupid by having their script written out on PowerPoint. Unfortunately, without meaning to, they can often end up looking stupid. Why? Most people aren’t practiced at reading out loud, so they may stumble over words. And because they are looking at the “script” they are not able to engage with the audience or adapt to what’s going on in the room. And it goes on and on! It’s a similar story for those with other monkeys too. Ironically, their presentation is more likely to go badly because of the very monkey telling them it will go badly. So step one to using PowerPoint effectively is to Tame your Monkeys. (You can buy the book of the same name here).

Once your Public Speaking Monkeys are tamed, you can follow these tips for using visual aids effectively:

Power in simplicity. Keep your visuals simple. Use one visual concept for one point. Don’t over complicate visuals with anything unnecessary – strip it back to essentials.

Get smart. Try to visualise complicated concepts. Use SmartArt on PowerPoint to get some ideas of how you can use different visuals to clearly communicate your point. For example, venn diagrams are good for illustrating how groups work together. You might use a process flow arrow to illustrate a timeline, or a pyramid to illustrate key steps.

Consistent colour. Don’t overlook colour when creating your visuals. Be aware that green signals go, red equals stop, and amber is neither good nor bad. Use colours consistently. If your brand colour is orange, use orange in your bar charts and graphs.

Perfectly placed. Think about the positioning of your visuals. Something in the past is generally placed on the left of the page. If you have something representing the future, put it on the right of the page. (This is only applicable to countries that read from left to right).

Get scribbling. If you like a challenge, don’t overlook drawing something yourself (where appropriate). This may sound scary, but simple illustrations or cartoons can communicate a lot. If  you are brave enough to draw live on a flip chart, the audience will be very impressed by, and engaged by, your efforts. They won’t be judging you on your artistic competence.

Use these tips when you are planning your next presentation. And remember – you should always write your presentation structure first (see my blog on Simply Amazing StructureⓇ) and think about any slides near the end of the preparation. Too many people do it the other way around!

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