Visual Aids

1100-by-600-px-72-ppi-with-hinges-taken-out--IMG_8045Visual Aids

“A picture paints a thousand words”  – a saying attributed to Frederick R. Barnard, who in commending the effectiveness of graphics in advertising, titled his work “One look is worth a thousand words”, (Printer’s Ink, December 1921).

Use of pictures and objects in speeches

When you’re referring to an object, multiple objects, a relationship or a trend:

  • it’s often impractical to bring an actual item into an auditorium (eg if you’re unveiling the latest Jumbo Jet)
  • it can be distracting to have a lot of objects on stage – if you’re referring to a product line
  • words on occasions take too long and are often not memorable when describing relationships or trends

The solution is to use pictures and the most popular presentation software packages are Microsoft PowerPoint and Apple Keynote. Although these are tailor-made for slides, don’t forget physical tools such as whiteboards, flipcharts and pens!


Slides with pictures and charts will help support your ideas and make your speech more memorable, but too often speakers:

  • use slides in lieu of notes
  • include lots of bullet points and have them spinning and sliding onto the screen causing huge audience distraction
  • repeat the text of their speech on their slides so the audience stops listening and starts reading
  • leave words on screen, after that point in the speech that slide illustrates, has been closed

My advice with slides is to:

  • sightlines – make sure your audience can see your screen
  • always face the audience when speaking
    • don’t turn your back on your audience and speak whilst looking at the screen
    • if you need to check the screen – look back at it but look forward when you start to speak
  • speak while your audience looks at your image – and talk about what the slide is illustrating
  • don’t include the text of your speech on your picture slides or people will read the text rather than listen to your speech
  • get rid of each slide when you have finished talking about the item the slides is illustrating
  • put a plain black slide after each picture slide – that way, you can easily blank the screen while you continue to talk and there’s no danger of displaying the next slide prematurely

Physical Visual Aids

My advice with physical visual aids

Give thought to the following:

  • sightlines – can everyone in the audience see your flipchart or objects? Are you going to stand in front of your flipchart and obscure your audience’s view?
  •  how will you reveal your objects?
  • can you place your objects out of sight when you’ve finished talking about each one?
  • remember that if you leave a visible object on view, the audience will continue to look at it instead of focusing on you, the speaker

Finally remember any piece of technology however simple or complicated – from a flip chart to a laptop and projector – can go wrong. Make sure you’re familiar with the equipment, arrive in good time to test it and have a back-up plan if it goes wrong.