We’ve all been subjected to presentations that bombard us with an endless stream of PowerPoint slides or other forms of visual “aids.” We read a screen covered with wordy bullet points and dense text, only to forget most of it by the time we leave the room.
Visual aids such as PowerPoint, Keynote, and Prezi can add flavor to your presentation – or they can suck the life out of it. We use visuals to foster a professional image and reinforce our brand, while helping the audience make sense of our message. But the audience will only reap the benefits if the speaker steers clear of a few common pitfalls. When constructing visual media, it is best to consider the following:
1. Do you really need visuals?
Depending on the topic, venue, and time allotted to speak, you might be better off not using a visual aid. Working in the 21st century, we’re conditioned to think every public address must include technology. If a visual aid will add significant value to your speech, then make every effort to use it. However, you should consider whether you can adequately convey your message unplugged.
2. Less is more.
Cramming your entire presentation into a massive display of bullet points doesn’t help the audience absorb, much less retain the information. Bullet points tend to be predictable and boring. In Carmine Gallo’s book, The Presentation Skills of Steve Jobs, he suggests nixing the standard bullet point template altogether. He explains, “Creating Steve Jobs-like slides will make you stand out in a big way. Your audience will be shocked and pleased because nobody else does it.” Jobs used simple and uncluttered slides, which contributed to his signature presentations that everyone talked about and no one forgot.
Instead of bullet points, try using key words, pictures, and graphs that are easy on the eyes. Construct your visual aids after you have prepared the presentation. This curbs the temptation to put every word and idea on the screen. Just one professional-looking slide with your company name and a slogan might be all that’s needed.
3. Don’t look back.
While giving a speech, we often experience a gravitational-like force pulling our eyes away from the audience and back toward the screen. We’re tempted to use visual aids like oversized note cards, helping us navigate from one main point to the next. Also, it’s less intimidating to stare at a screen than to pursue meaningful eye contact with people. Looking back at your slides can disrupt your connection with the audience. Obviously there are times when you need to point out key data, but see if you can give your entire presentation without gazing at the screen.
Visual aids alone are neither good nor bad. It’s how they’re designed and delivered. When constructing each slide, make sure the slide leads to clarity, not confusion. Does it reinforce the message or is it redundant? Can more be communicated with less? These questions will guide you in developing the right visual for the right message to generate the best results.
Gallo, C. (2010). The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Joe McLeod is the Co-founder of McLeod Communications, LLC
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