As you might expect, presentation aids assist the speaker in keeping the audience’s attention and showcasing his or her point in a visual manner. Of course, visual aids can be distracting if not used properly. To get the most out of your presentation aids, follow these four guidelines below.
1. Make Sure Everyone Can See
Consider the size of your room in which you’ll be speaking. Think about the size of your audience. What technology do you have available to you? These factors will affect how well people can see your presentation aids—and therefore how impactful they’ll be on audience engagement and retention.
If people have to strain to see what you’re showing them, the takeaway will likely be lost on them. So, before you hold up a small physical object for a room of 500 people, plan how you’ll make it visible to all. This guideline also holds true if you’re projecting a deck of slides, chart or any other kind of aid. As one communications firm writes, “Projecting an image people can’t see is as senseless as speaking so softly people can’t hear.”
2. Choose the Best Aids to Showcase Key Points
There are many types of presentation aids from which to choose. Poll Everywhere outlines six popular choices speakers may elect to use: demonstrations, charts/graphs, handouts, diagrams, highlighted text and videos. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
The key is choosing the best aid or aids to showcase your key points. The length and nature of your presentation will affect which ones you implement. A data-heavy marketing presentation will inevitably include a number of helpful charts to clarify information, while a persuasive product pitch will likely include a product demonstration.
3. Stagger Presentation Aids to Keep Attention
Public speaking experts hold differing opinions on how long the ideal presentation should be. Some say audiences have an average attention span of about 20 minutes. Others believe it’s shorter; around 10. TED Talks limit speakers to 18 minutes, a length of time many regard as the sweet spot between too long and too short.
The good news is, no matter the final length of your presentation, you can use visual aids throughout to recapture people’s attention if it slips. Every few slides, try inserting a poll, image, video clip, graph, map, diagram or other visual aid. This will help mix up the cadence and appearance of your presentation so as to avoid monotony.
Long story short: It’s simply unrealistic to expect people to pay attention to a barrage of straightforward information for too long. Not only will they start to tune out in the moment, but they’ll walk away remember less of what they heard—even the important stuff. Presentation aids are an excellent way to emphasize certain points while breaking your cumulative presentation into more digestible chunks.
4. Use Presentation Aids as Seasoning — Not As the Meal
Although we’ve outlined the extreme usefulness of presentation aids, it’s important to remember they’re ultimately seasoning on the full “meal” that is your presentation. Throw in too much and the “flavor” will be overwhelming.
A good rule of thumb to remember is that you should be able to deliver your presentation without your aids if you absolutely had to. They’re important for helping people understand your key points, and they add tons of visual interest, but it’s inadvisable to make them the backbone of your presentation. Use only as many as you need to enhance the information you’re delivering. Choose the presentation aid or aids with the format that best suits your messaging—but avoid leaning too heavily on them at the expense of your presentation’s core.
These guidelines will help you successfully use presentation aids to enhance your message, add visual interest and increase how much your audience takes away from your session. The most important thing is choosing the right types of visual aids to strengthen your message, then using them sparingly at the right intervals.