There is a tendency to believe that all presentations need visual aids to support them.

This rapidly becomes a belief that ALL presentations need visuals and we end up in a place where the visuals are more important to the speaker or the words they are delivering. In fact, when people talk about making a presentation, many of them are actually thinking about delivering a series of PowerPoint slides.

We have heard the expression “Death by PowerPoint”, where a speaker fires slide after slide at their audience. The slides full are full of text and are word for word what the speaker is saying. There is almost no deviation, what you see up there on the slide is what the speaker is saying verbatim.

What on earth is the speaker offering their audience that they couldn’t get from reading a handout of the slides? And it gets better. Some presenters even distribute a handout of these text slides; so you can now read his speech along with him! Why did the speaker waste the audience’s time calling them to a presentation when they might as well have just sent out a copy of the slides on an e-mail so everyone could read the message in their own good time?

If the audience wanted a film they would go to the cinema. What they want is to hear from us, the speaker. We even say “I want to hear what he has to say on this subject” not “I want to see his PowerPoint slide display”!

Presentations are not about PowerPoint slides. Neither are they about flip charts, OHP’s or any other visual aids. Presentations are speeches and speeches are about communicating a message through the medium of the spoken word. The role of visual aids is to help our audience understand and engage with our message; so let’s look at how we achieve that rather than allowing ourselves to be the supporting act in a PowerPoint presentation.

How Can Visual Aids Assist Your Audience?

If we agree that putting up your whole script on PowerPoint slides does not help your audience, what are the advantages to using visual aids?

For a start, visuals help you clarify a point.

There are occasions when a visual such as a graph or a pie chart can explain statistics or financial information far easier than words alone can do.

Visuals can also be used to give birds eye views of scenarios (e.g. a map of an area) or could be used to show a specific item that you are talking about. Photographs can show details such as technical faults that would be hard for the speaker to describe adequately for the audience to understand.

Visual aids are extremely useful in setting a scene. If you were talking about your holiday in Italy, a picture of the Leaning Tower of Pisa gets your audience understanding exactly what your subject will be about. It also has the added benefit of building rapport (“I’ve been there too!”) without the speaker uttering a single word. Visuals convey a message which does not need words (e.g. an iPhone).

Alternatively, visuals can be used to invoke inter-action between you and your audience. You could show a picture and ask “What’s this?” or other similar questions, which get your audience involved in your presentation. You could simply ask the audience to study a picture which both gives them a break from hearing your voice and allows you to take a quick breath, study your notes, or grab a glass of water.

You can also use visuals to can act as sign posts for your audience. Using visual aids to show your agenda, your key points or by showing the audience where they are in the presentation.

They say that a “picture is worth a 1,000 words”. Not sure if the maths is completely correct but have you noticed that I haven’t mentioned text, bullet points or even PowerPoint as I have described how visuals can enhance your presentation. That is because these are not the only visual aids that you can use when public speaking. Flip charts, props & samples are visual aids too!

You might have also noticed that I have talked about visuals enhancing your communication skills and supporting your presentation and helping your audience.That is the purpose of visuals; to help you get your message across. Many great speakers and many great speeches relied on no visuals at all, let alone PowerPoint!

Too many presenters seem to think that they are an extra supporting the visuals. They couldn’t be further from the truth. Visual aids are there to support you!


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