Five Tips on the Use of Visual Aids

With the rise of many kinds of software for computer-generated visuals, such as PowerPoint and Keynote, we have additional choices for visuals we use in a presentation. Whiteboard, flip charts, objects, and cutaways are all standard means of visually reinforcing our points in a speech. Whichever type of visual you use, here are five tips on making them more effective.

The visual should be big enough to be seen by everyone. That is the benefit of software-generated visuals; you can adapt the size of the visual to the size of the audience and the room. Although I have seen effective use of poster boards on a tripod on a stage with several hundred people the audience, you should never have to ask, “Can you see this from where you are sitting?”  You should know ahead of time because you have personally sat on the back row to see if the visual is readable or understandable.

I typically use 24-point Times Roman font as the minimum size. A way to insure easy visibility is the 6 by 6 rule:  no more than six lines on a page and six words on a line.

Talk to the audience, not to the visual aid. You should know what the next slide or page contains; thus looking at your visuals should be unnecessary unless you are working with the visual to demonstrate how something is done. If you need to see the PowerPoint slide as it appears on the screen, make paper copies of the slide and use them as your notes. I find that I can put up to six slides per sheet of paper and the words are large enough for me to see.

Visuals should be simple and easy to explain. Some charts I’ve seen speakers use confuse more than they clarify. A general rule is one idea, one picture, or one chart per slide, page, or poster.

The visual aid should not overshadow the speaker. Each visual should require your explanation or elaboration. If not, then you, the speaker, become unnecessary. Always tell more than you show. If you use video of any kind, the content should require your commentary; introduce the clip to prepare us for something that is about to happen on screen or draw a conclusion at the end of the film.

Finally, practice with your visuals as you practice your presentation. If you don’t work with your visuals until the actual speech, the extra dimension of visuals may complicate your delivery of the presentation. Show the slides as you practice in an empty conference room. Go through the actual demonstration with the cutaway or object.

Visuals add more time to the presentation. The practice session(s) allow you to be more confident with the length of your speech. This practice also helps you identify typos or grammatical errors on your slides. Have someone else proof your slides to avoid the embarrassment of seeing a typo on your slide as you are in the middle of your presentation.

Visuals give us the sixth sense in speaking—the combination of two or more of the five senses. When visuals are an essential part of our speech content, we can give the audience more opportunities to pay attention and understand.

In case you missed the previous Tips articles:
Five Tips for Organizing a Speech
Five Tips for Good Delivery
Five Tips for Controlling Stage Fright

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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