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Importance of Visual Aids

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Speakers and seminar leaders who spend huge amounts of time worrying about their visual aids are misguided. I’ve seen lots of presenters with all kinds of fancy PowerPoint presentations, but who were only average presenters. Your visual aids should complement your “performance”; they should never be the performance.

I see a lot of presenters who use their visual aids as a means of masking a very average presentation. I’m usually suspicious of people with a really razzle-dazzle visual presentation. If you have a great presentation you frankly don’t need a stunning visual presentation. This isn’t to say that you can’t do both.

In my opinion you should be your own best visual aid. You’ve got to learn how to move on stage and capture peoples’ attention.

If your visual presentation adds to your presentation, then by all means use it. Just don’t rely on it and make it the centerpiece of your presentation.

Without seeing your presentation it is really difficult to give you very general guidelines. The one criticism I can give you of most of the visuals that I see used at presentations has to do with the amount of information that people try and pack onto one slide or overhead.

Here are some additional hints if you are going to use visuals effectively:

Remember the 6×6 Rule
Be economical with the text on your visuals. Stick to a maximum of six words per line and a maximum of six lines. The visuals you present don’t have to be a verbatim transcript of what you’ll be telling people. (In fact, one of the most annoying things you’ve probably experienced yourself is attending a seminar where the speaker simply reads his or her slides.)

Instead, think of your visuals as an executive summary of the information you want to present.

Keep Quantity of Visuals Reasonable
I’ve been at seminars where a person went through 50 slides in a 60 minute presentation. This is absurd. I can’t give you an exact number, but keep them limited to your essential information that needs to be highlighted. If you want to give people all kinds of specific information, do it in the form of a handout.

Keep Things Simple
The simpler you can make things in your verbal presentation, the better. The same thing holds true for any visuals that you use. Give your visuals the old 4th grader test. If you show them to a 10 year old kid and they can understand them, you’re on the right track. Take the complex and make it simple. People will appreciate this approach.

Have Someone Else Proofread Everything
There is nothing more embarrassing than having typos or factual errors on your visuals. No matter how many times you go over the material yourself, you won’t be able to catch your own mistakes. Have at least one, if not two or three people proofread your visuals for typos and factual accuracy.
Use Technology Where Appropriate
(But Have Low-Tech Backup)

It’s perfectly acceptable to use a razzle-dazzle video presentation if that’s the industry you’re in or the group you’re appealing to. Use it where it makes sense. Don’t just use the flashy approach to show people that you can. Appropriateness is the key word. There are times when the old flip chart makes the most sense. Don’t be afraid to use this and other low-tech devices if they make sense.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a video projector go down during a seminar. The problem is that many presenters only have their presentations on the computer. Don’t be one of them. Make sure that you carry some standard overheads as a back up just in case. (In fact, to be triply sure, carry a hard copy of your presentation and the associated notes. For most presentations, you should be able to deliver the material nearly as effectively even if power goes out.)

Have Some Fun
Unless you’re a humorist, you don’t want to try to make people cackle with laughter with every visual you put up, but you do want to lighten things up a bit every so often. Even the stodgiest group of corporate types will appreciate the occasional visual that tries to make things a little less serious. I tend to be somewhat less than politically correct in my humor. I don’t necessarily recommend that you follow my lead, but that’s my style.

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