Public Speaking Visual Aids Help (page 3)
Introduction to Public Speaking Visual Aids
A picture is worth a thousand words.
Listening to someone speak is an effective way of learning, but you can add the element of visual aids to your speech to enhance the learning experience. This lesson will show you what to do—and what to avoid doing.
Good speaking is more than words, as we've said numerous times already. One nonverbal element of a good speech is the use of visual aids. Visual elements are important for several reasons. First, they grab your audience's attention. Second, they allow your listeners to use their eyes as well as their ears. Third, visual aids reinforce your ideas by providing concrete examples of abstract principles.
Visual aids refers to just about anything your audience can see. This can include those negative visual aspects we've discussed in previous lessons, such as a loud necktie (we'll take a closer look at visual distractions in the next lesson), as well as anything tangible that helps the audience better understand your words.
One of the most effective forms of visual aid is a three-dimensional object. Demonstrative speeches practically require objects to be effective, as you will want to demonstrate whatever you're talking about. A speech on how to repair a computer, for example, ought to include a real-life computer for demonstration.
But objects are not restricted to demonstrative speeches by any means. When you were a child, you undoubtedly had teachers who gave "object lessons," lessons that taught some abstract principle using a real-life object as an illustration. This is a very powerful speech technique, and it should not be limited to children. Here are some ways that you can add objects to your speech:
- Make it pertinent to your point. Simply holding up some random object is not the goal here. Your visual aid must advance your speech in some way. A clock might be useful in a speech on the history of time-keeping, but it might not be helpful in a speech on present tax rates.
- Make the connection clear to your audience. Your visual aid might seem completely unrelated to your topic (which doesn't really contradict our previous point). For example, you might in fact use a clock as a visual aid in a speech on current tax rates—if you clearly connect it to your topic by turning back the clock as you speak about returning tax rates to a former time period.
- Make sure the audience can clearly see your visual aid. Your "turn back the hands of time" idea in using a clock will only be effective if the audience can see the hands moving backward.
- Make it interactive. Simply holding up a clock while speaking about turning back time is far less effective than actually interacting with the clock, such as by making the hands move in reverse.
Printed sheets of paper can be an effective form of visual aid. In fact, they are one of the most effective forms, because they give the audience information they can literally take home with them. There is also a tactile element to a printed sheet of paper, something the audience can touch and feel, which is not available in a slide presentation.
Follow these tips when handing out printed material:
- Keep it brief. As with all visual aids, avoid the pitfall of putting too much information into your handouts. An outline works well, or bulleted points like the lists in this book. These are just short sentences and phrases that summarize the information that you have expounded on in your speech.
- Keep it simple. Don't fall prey to the temptation to show off your fonts and clip art. Stick to the reason for the handout and avoid extraneous elements that will distract a reader.
- Keep it until the end. The danger of handouts is that you cannot make your audience stop looking at them. Slides are an advantage in that respect; when you're done, you turn it off. But once you give your listeners something to read, they become readers rather than listeners. Don't distribute handouts until you're done speaking.
Large Printed Materials and Whiteboards
Maps, Charts, Graphs
A traditional method of adding visuals to a speech is to use large printed materials. These can still be very effective tools today, providing a great deal of technical information in an easily understood visual format.
Maps are useful whenever you are speaking about a geographical region, because they help your audience see visually where the region is in relation to themselves. Charts and graphs can take abstract information and make it come alive, showing trends, percentages, numerical relationships, and so on, in colorful detail.
The downside to these traditional methods is that they tend to be fairly labor intensive. You might be familiar with the traditional "flip chart," which is essentially a huge pad of blank paper that you can flip through, page by oversized page. The difficulty is that these pages are blank, which means you need to fill them with your own visual aids, drawing charts and graphs by hand. It might be simpler to create such aids on a computer or to download them off the Internet beforehand.
Follow these tips when using traditional methods:
- Make sure the audience can clearly see your aids. You might need to get an easel to prop them up, and you might even be forced to elevate the easel on a stage or riser. Seat yourself at the very back of the room to find out how difficult it will be to see your visual aids.
- Explain them to your audience. This is especially true of any types of graph or chart that have multiple things going on. For example, a pie chart showing percentages of income from various sources will need to be explained, pointing out each slice of the pie and explaining what it represents. When using maps, point out where your audience is on the map and where the area is that you're discussing.
- Avoid clutter. This is the corollary to the previous principle. It might be tempting to cram all your information into one flow chart—especially if you have to create it by hand—but that can be counterproductive. Keep the charts simple, and use multiple charts to cover lots of information.
- Do not stand in front of your aids. This is especially problematic with these traditional forms of visual aids, because you will want to point out elements of each one as you speak. Your temptation will be to face the chart to find the things you want to discuss, then remain standing in front of it with your back to the audience. Don't do this. Turn to face them while keeping your finger or pointer in place.
Blackboards and Whiteboards
An even more traditional method of using visual aids is the blackboard and its modern counterpart, the whiteboard. The benefit of these is that you will be able to create your visual aids while speaking, drawing, or writing on the board. Of course, this is also the big downside, since you can't prepare your material in advance.
Even so, drawing while you speak is a great way to rivet your audience's attention, and writing out pertinent points as you go helps make abstract information more concrete. Follow the principles listed for maps and charts when using a blackboard or whiteboard.
Slides, Projectors, and PowerPoints
There was a time when a slide projector was considered indispensable to any public speaking forum. It enabled a speaker to show visual images of almost anything he or she wanted to talk about, whether a trip to exotic locales or colorful pie charts and graphs. It enabled the audience to see visuals clearly, since even something like a tiny watch gear could be photographed and enlarged to clear visibility.
The advent of digital photography, however, has changed all this, and these days it might be difficult to ever get your hands on a carousel slide projector. Yet, you might find yourself in a situation that demands a slide projector, such as needing to use 35mm photographs to illustrate your presentation. (Even in that situation, incidentally, you might do better to have the images scanned into digital format and use a PowerPoint projector.) If you do need a slide projector, follow these tips:
- Be sure that the room can be darkened enough for the slides to be visible. This is one of the downsides to slides: A darkened room invites your audience to take a nap. But the slides won't be visible if there is extraneous light; you might even need to cover windows.
- Do not move through the slides too quickly—or too slowly. You should leave each slide on screen for approximately 20 seconds to allow your audience to examine it. More than that runs the risk of becoming boring, while less makes the viewer's eyes spin.
- Use a remote control. When I was growing up, slide projectors didn't have carousels; each slide was "injected" and "ejected" by a side-to-side sliding mechanism. The speaker would stand at the front and say "next," while an assistant operated the projector. This created a very sleepy cadence that never failed to lull me into a nap. A remote allows you to move through the slides at your own pace without interruption.
The overhead projector was considered state of the art when I was young, but these days it has been supplanted by PowerPoint presentations. All the same, I still like to use it when possible for a number of reasons.
by PowerPoint presentations. All the same, I still like to use it when possible for a number of reasons.
Follow these tips when using an overhead projector:
- Number your transparencies. They are slippery, and sooner or later you will drop them. Trust me on this. It is most likely to happen just as you are about to use them, and then it's too late to put them back in order. Numbers discreetly written in a corner will be a lifesaver.
- Look up! Of all the visual aids we're discussing, the overhead projector is probably the worst for those who get distracted by their aids. You can so easily find yourself standing over the projector, staring down at your transparency as you speak, and this is a real trap.
- Point to the screen, not to the transparency. This principle grows out of the previous one. The reason that you'll be staring down is that you'll be pointing out details in your transparency to your audience. Instead, use a pointer of some sort (a yardstick will do if you don't have a laser pointer) to indicate what you're discussing directly on the screen. And remember to face your audience rather than the screen, as we've discussed already.
- Prepare the projector before you speak. Overheads need to be adjusted for audience visibility in more ways than other projectors. You need to position them the correct distance from the screen to get the largest image possible; you need to swivel the mirror head to the center of the screen (and also to minimize the keystone effect); and you need to focus the mirror head up and down. All this requires your full attention on the projector, and will seriously interfere with your speech. Do it ahead of time so you won't have to think about it when speaking.
This computer-based application has become the industry standard in presenting visual aids, replacing most of the two-dimensional approaches we've discussed thus far. (Nothing can ever quite replace a compelling use of three-dimensional objects.) PowerPoint enables you to create visually attractive slides that present information in almost any format you desire. If you're computer savvy, you can even incorporate motion and sound into your presentation.
The downside to PowerPoint is, ironically, the very fact that it is so powerful and easy to use. Many speakers become overly dependent upon their PowerPoint presentations and forget to develop their speech properly. This can lead to a speech that is more of a slide show than a public speaking event. As with all other visual aids, your PowerPoint presentation exists solely to further your speech—not vice versa.
Follow these tips when using PowerPoint:
- Do not read your slides to the audience. They can read; let them. Use the words on a slide to augment the words you speak, or to give a broad overview of a point while you go into greater depth verbally.
- Use visual images in your slides effectively. Colors and clip art can enhance the words on a slide and make them more interesting to look at. But the rules for objects apply here, too: Graphic images should have some connection to the words. Don't overdo animations or other graphic effects. They are a visual spice; use them sparingly.
- Use a legible font. Computers make it tempting to play around with fancy fonts, such as pretty scripts and unusual specialty fonts. But those fancy fonts can be very difficult to read from the back of an audience, causing your visual aids to become visual distractions. When in doubt, use Times New Roman—and remember to make it large enough to read from far away.
- Have someone proofread your slides. I can't tell you how many times I've sat through PowerPoint presentations that were filled with typos and misspellings. This does more than distract the audience; it makes the speaker look careless and unprepared! Do not depend on your computer's spell-check feature, either, since it will not catch the most flagrant spelling errors—such as to, too, and two; women instead of woman; their, they're, and there; and many other common mistakes.
Public Speaking Visual Aid Review and Practice
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