Improving Your Visual Aids: How to Make Your Next Speech a Hit! by James G. Patterson Visual aids are an important way for you to better persuade and inform an audience. Wow, what a revelation, you might be thinking. And that's good. Much of what is going to follow may seem like common sense. But you know what the old pros say about common sense? It ain't so common. You'll read some things you might already know; you might also pick up a tip or two that will save your next speech. Recent research points out the power of visuals to help an audience remember and learn information three days after a speech: for an "oral only" speech, the audience retained only about 10 percent of the message; for a "visuals only" speech, the audience retained about 20 percent of the information; and for a speech that combined both oral and visual elements, the audience retained about 65 percent of the information! Your audience expects you to know how to effectively use visuals. There are several reasons why you ought to do so: -Minimizes distractions -Focuses audience attention on the selected message -Aids in the clarity of the message -Helps keep you and your audience organized -Make you appear professional and credible Patterson 2 You should plan your visuals as you develop your speech or training session. Keep it organized. As you think about what you want to include, try to think in visual terms. What's your purpose? Who's your audience? Can you illustrate an idea using a visual? Does it make sense to do so? How? What kind of visual? Include thumbnail sketches of your visual idea along with your planning outline for your speech or training session. After you've finished your speech or course outline, then work on finishing your visual aids. Here are some guidelines for building better visual aids: 1. MAKE IT CLEAR. One idea per visual aid 2. MAKE IT INTERESTING. Follow the advice of the Disney Corporation; don't make the visual so simple it gives the audiences' mind time to wander. Consider using surprising pictorials (I have an artist who drew cartoons of me in many business situations. I use them in many of my visual aids. It never fails to get a laugh, and makes me memorable!) contrasts, or color. Even if you can't use color slides or transparencies, you can always bring color markers or pens to circle, check, underline, or draw emphasis to your visual. 3. EXAGGERATE REALITY. You can do this through bold print or some kind of exaggerated look at a graph or pie chart to focus on an area of interest. 4. Again, THINK VISUALLY. A good visual should support your dialogue; not contain the dialogue. Nothing loses an audience faster than straight text on a visual. This teaches an audience to rely on the visual. You just become a prop. 5. PREPARE THE AUDIENCE. Don't introduce a visual on another topic when the audience is still thinking about the first topic. Let the audience know what's coming. This is nothing more that remembering to "tell the audience what you're gonna tell 'em." Patterson 3 6. KEEP VISUALS UNCLUTTERED. Use lots of white space; six to eight words a line, six to eight lines to a text chart. Be brief, use a single idea per line, and don't use any more than one or two fonts (you want to avoid the "ransom note" look common to visuals built by people who just discovered how many neat fonts came with their new Windows computer program!), create a path for the eye (left to right and up to down; just like people read), make the most important word or object dominant by being biggest, boldest or brightest, and use basic design concepts that look interesting. Look at other speakers visuals. What did you like about them? What did you dislike about them? 7. INVOLVE THE AUDIENCE. In 451 B.C., Confucius, one of the first professional speakers, gave us this advice, "What I hear, I forget; What I see, I remember; What I do, I understand." Seeing visuals is a step toward getting the audience involved with you and the subject. Knowing your audience will tell you how to introduce new material visually based on what they already know. What kind of visuals you can use depends on four things: your own personality, the communication potential of each visual, how you can combine visual and verbal information, and the audience and the occasion. The first visual is YOURSELF. Depending on the topic, audience, and occasion, you might be able to demonstrate something using your body. If that isn't appropriate, remember to look good and be good. Try to dress a tad better than the audience. Patterson 4 The second kind of visual, OVERHEAD PROJECTORS, are good for small groups up to 200 people, if you arrange the room correctly. Another good reason to use overhead is you don't have to dim the room, giving you the ability to look your audience in the eye. Overhead transparencies are easy to carry and make, projectors are easy to use, and almost every organization has one. The negatives of using overheads are that colors and photographs reproduce poorly and the machine can be a distraction. If you decide to use transparencies, keep these tips in mind: use transparency frames (otherwise, they'll tend to stick together), make sure the projector is as unobtrusive as possible, take an extra bulb with you, make sure you turn off the room light right above the screen, and make sure the screen is big enough so all can see. If you want to use a pointer to call attention to material, you can use a long pointer with a rubber tip, pens or those airline swizzle sticks to point at objects directly on the transparency, or high tech laser pens. Just make sure you keep facing your audience when pointing. A third kind of visual aid is the 35-MM SLIDE PROJECTOR. There are two chief advantages of using a slide projector: it shows excellent color and detail and you can use it for very large audiences. The disadvantages are the slide carousel can be bulky to carry, the slides themselves can be expensive to make, and more things can go wrong with the machine. A fourth kind of visual you can use is CHARTS AND GRAPHS. Make sure you put a clear headline on each chart or graph, clearly label each X and Y axis, and don't overload your presentation with charts and graphs. For examples, take a look at how the newspaper USA TODAY uses charts and graphs. There are four kinds of charts and graphs: 1. FLOW CHARTS clarify complex relationships 2. PIE CHARTS convey percentage relationships or proportions 3. LINE GRAPHS are good for trends, relationships, and comparisons 4. BAR CHARTS emphasize relationships and how things compare with one another Patterson 5 A fifth way of illustrating a speech or training session is a grab bag called SPECIAL EFFECTS. They can add real pizzazz to a presentation but can also take it over. New computer technology like Windows 3.1 makes it possible to use animation, music, and sound to your visuals. But you should ask yourself if using these special effects will help your audience learn, remember, get inspired, or motivated? Or will this distract my audience? Keep an eye out for computer software and hardware development. Not too long from now, many of us may be using these effects in our presentations. A sixth kind of visual is the familiar FLIP CHART. They're cheap, fast, and you can use them in a variety of situations. And they are informal, which can either be good or bad depending on your audience and purpose. On the negative side, flip charts can look sloppy, they don't handle a lot of information, can be awkward to carry, and are only good for small audiences. Tips: use a nice variety of colors, avoid pens that bleed through, make sure your lettering is thick and dark, and make sure everybody can read the lettering. If you plan to use pre-drawn flip charts, you can lightly pencil notes at the top of each chart as a prompter. You should also leave a few blank pages between each pre-drawn chart so the audience can't see the next chart. This will also give you some blank pages to write on for audience replies. Remember to put little masking tape tabs on the sides of the flip charts you've already made. It will prevent a lot of time wasted looking for the next chart. MODELS, a seventh kind of visual, can make your points seem more realistic and can give your audience hands-on knowledge. But they aren't appropriate for anything more than 15 people and can be a distraction if passed around during a presentation. Tips: introduce the model only when you're ready to speak about it. When done, put it away. The eighth type of visual aid is the CHALKBOARD, the least desirable type of visual. Why? Think back to school. Ugh! Chalkboards can look messy and unprofessional. To write, talk, and face the audience at the same time is impossible. However, in more informal situations, chalkboards are a quick way to get information up so all can see. Patterson 6 To make overhead transparencies or 35-mm slides, you're going to have to invest in a computer. It's fast, easy, and relatively inexpensive once you learn how to use the equipment. If you use a PC (IBM compatible), you'll find the best programs work under the Windows environment. This will open up a tremendous capability to use a combination of graphics and fonts. With additional add-on equipment, you can use animation and sound. Programs that produce excellent results are Harvard Graphics, Corel Draw, Ventura Publisher, Power Point, and Page Maker. Whatever kinds of visuals you decide to use, keep these final suggestions in mind: -If you aren't sure, don't use it. You're better off with one too few visual than one too many. -Deliver your words with the visual. There must be a connection. -When you're done showing the visual, take it down and guide attention back to you. Remember, YOU'RE the show, not the visual. -Face your audience, not the visual. Visuals are a great way to involve the audience, get them to remember you and your material, and gain you credibility. The kind of visuals you use depends on your personality, purpose, audience, and capabilities. Don’t be afraid to ask others for suggestions on how to improve your visuals. And remember to think visually the next time you plan a speech session. ### AUTHOR'S BIOGRAPHY: James G. Patterson, "The Cogent Communicator," is a Tucson, Arizona based business writer. He has authored three books, ISO 9000: Worldwide Quality Standard, Benchmarking Basics (both from Crisp Publications, Menlo Park, CA), and How to Negotiate (AMACOM Books, New York. Jim is an education specialist with the U.S. Army and on the faculty of the University of Phoenix.