Visuals in Public Speaking: How to Use Them to Get Results


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If you want to get results from your presentations, and from your speeches, you need, basically, a message and a presentation focused on the results you want. You use the visuals, then, to support that message – give it power. And you must be seen, in your presentation and in your use of those visuals, as competent and confident. Then you will produce the impact that you choose.

It may be that in the culture of your organisation or of your audience, impact will be created by your visuals. If the message of your speech means nothing, your speech means nothing, and your image beyond the ability to create those visuals means nothing, then you will need to develop a high level of competency in creating those visuals and in presenting them. Invest in courses in construction and invest time in becoming competent with their operation.

If there is any possibility of going beyond that culture, beyond an unquestioned tradition, then DO! And you can guarantee results. Your impact will be made with your message, and with your presentation skills. And that means the visual supports will be just that – supports – unobtrusive in themselves. They need to be professional, yes, excellent, yes, to support your credibility and image, but they should be seamlessly supporting your message, not announcing their presence.

And if you want them to be excellent, work on your design skills. Try to be unique if you can, especially where you want to make an impact. Using the same old clip art and graphics that everyone uses will not be noticed, but originality will.

If your visuals are to work without distracting from your message, be sure they can be seen by everyone in the room. Make your words large and uncluttered. Five or six lines on a slide, flip chart page or transparency is absolutely adequate, if not too much, and they will create far more impact than a mass of written material. The same applies to images.

Objects should be large enough to be seen, too. You can pass the smaller ones around, but know that while people are looking at the objects, they are not looking at you, and you have lost their attention. It may be better to have a display that people can look at after the presentation.

Using the “equipment” has to be as unobtrusive as possible. The first step here is being prepared. If you can practice beforehand, do so. Organise all the physical objects so that you can reach them when they are needed, without having to search, and without having to fumble. This may mean arranging them in the order in which they will be presented. It may mean practising the presentation so that you know automatically where to reach for something. This can apply to objects you want to display, the remote control for projecting equipment, the pens for flip charts or overhead projectors or a whiteboard, or to slides or overhead transparencies.

During these practice sessions, work out how you will move around the visual supports and equipment. Where will you place the objects you want to pick up – on a table, or another piece of furniture? Where will this, or the equipment, be so that you can move around it and communicate most easily with your audience – in front of you, beside or behind you? Always consider the least distracting way of accessing your material and the greatest ease of movement.

If you are using projection equipment, visualise its placement. Think about how you will work with the laptop or the overhead projector – standing beside, or behind? Do you want your silhouette projected on the screen as well as your visuals? Walking in front of the screen will also obscure them.

If you cannot organise the positioning of your equipment, then try to become familiar with it before the presentation and then visualise how you will use it best.

Plan to use visuals so that they support your message and do not detract from it, or overtake the attention. You need to be able to use the visuals easily. Turn the pages of a flip chart from the bottom corner. If you can find the remote control for your PowerPoint, use it, or be familiar with the keyboard shortcuts to use. Practice the way you will pick up, place and put down your OHP transparencies. These operations are all meant to be as unobtrusive as possible, not part of the message.

Please do not treat your audience as illiterate. If your words are on the screen or sheet of paper, then let the audience read for themselves. This will have enormous impact, especially if your audience is used to presenters slavishly following the text on their visuals.

You are presenting your message verbally, and visuals are just that – images or groups of words that support your message. They are not the message itself. If necessary, you may have to explain this, first, because many audiences have been trained by presenters who cover their inadequacies by using their visuals as the message. And this is why you will make an impact if you can present without using this method. You will be different. You will be seen as so much more confident and competent as a person. And, as always in public speaking, confidence and competence are the underlying basis of the power of your impact.

Bronwyn Ritchie has 20 years’ experience speaking to audiences and training in public speaking - from individuals too nervous to say their own names in front of an audience, to community groups and corporate executives. You can get her free tips, articles, resources and quotations for your public speaking and presentations in a fortnightly ezine - subscribe to Pivotal Public speaking - the ezine . Or visit the Pivotal Public speaking web pages .


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