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Preparing visual aids

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Visual aids stimulate interest, illustrate factors which are hard to explain with words alone, and make it easier for the audience to understand your presentation and the points you wish to make.

Preparing visual aids In preparing visual aids, consider the following points:

  • limit the number of slides or overheads used
  • demonstrate ideas simply
  • include only key words and phrases
  • use colour
  • be sure lettering is large enough to be read at the back of the room
  • use bullet points, avoiding large slabs of written text
  • label graphs, charts, figures, and diagrams

Further information:

  • Audience attention span
  • A few pointers on using overheads
  • Using Powerpoint
  • Handouts

Audience attention span

Attention span graph

Mills, H.R. (1977) Techniques of Technical Training, 3rd Ed. Macmillan, London

Permission of Macmillan Press

Awareness of the audience's attention span demonstrates the value of visuals, especially in the body of the presentation.

Note in the graph above how attention is highest in the early stages of the presentation, during the introduction. Capitalise on this attention: Use a visual demonstrating the purpose of the presentation, or outlining the main points to be covered.

Note how concentration drops as the presentation progresses. Use visuals to convey complex information, or summarise the points made. Use visuals to try to keep your audience interested.

A few pointers on using overheads

  • Practise using the equipment so that you are comfortable with it.
  • Maintain a smooth flow of speech while transitioning between slides or overheads.
  • Do not turn your back on the audience and do not block visuals with your body. Equally, don't shield yourself behind the computer monitor or overhead projector (OHP) throughout your presentation.
  • Check frequently that your slides are organised properly.
  • If using an OHP, don't point to the projected image on the large screen. Instead, use a pen or finger on the OHP glass. A laser pointer might also be useful if using Powerpoint.
  • Do not use too many slides: People can get sick of looking at them. Instead, consider using a few key visuals and overlays.
  • Know which slide is coming up next!

Using Powerpoint

Many students choose to use Powerpoint for the visuals in their presentations.

Some consideratons:

  • Check that the venue has provision for electronic equipment.
  • Make sure that you practise so that you are competent in using the equipment and software (e.g. going back to previous slides).
  • Be well prepared! In case things go wrong, have a set of overhead transparencies ready to use in place of Powerpoint. (You can make these from your Powerpoint slides.)

Using Handouts

  • Place only main points on the handouts.
  • Distribute before you start, or after your presentation, not while you are speaking. (If you pass them out as you are speaking, the audience will focus on the handout, and you will lose control.)
  • If you distribute them before you begin, wait until you have the attention of the audience before starting.
  • When you want the audience to refer to a particular section of the handout, refer to it by page. This will prevent listeners from rustling through the handout, losing concentration, and distracting you from your presentation.
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