Advice on choosing and using visual aids

I recently prepared this document for a class with advice about choosing and using visual aids for a classroom speech:

Although visual aids can be a great addition to a speech, not every visual aid is a good choice. Good visual aids do one of three things in your speech:
• Show how something looks.
• Show how something works.
• Show how two or more things relate.

A great way to see visual aids like these in action is to watch informative TV programs like sports analysis programs, the Weather Channel, a cooking or how-to program, or the news to analyze how they use visuals. Rarely will you see only words used as visuals. More often you will see videoclips, maps, demonstrations, graphs, or diagrams and photos.

In other words, you’ve heard that a picture a worth a thousand words — a good visual aid is one that saves you a thousand words. Sometimes speakers, especially teachers, will use visual aids that are only made up of words. If your listeners are going to be taking notes and then tested on the material, this is fair. If they are not going to be taking notes, then there is no reason to use words as visual aids — your visuals should do something VISUAL instead.

Some things that should not be used as visual aids in classroom speeches:
• No nudity.
• No illegal items.
• No animals.
• No weapons or anything that could reasonably pass as a weapon.
I think we can all live with those rules…

A couple of quick tips:
• If you are going to hand anything out, save it until the end of the speech, otherwise it becomes a distraction and no one will listen to you while the object is being passed and they take time examine it.
• Keep the visual aid hidden until you are ready to talk about it. If you are using slides, that means putting blank slides before and after the ones you plan to show or using the system’s “black out” screen, if available.
• Put a note in your notecards about when you use your visuals — I have often seen students forget about them during the speech. A simple “VA” in bright red ink will do the trick.
• Make sure to practice with the visuals so you know how much time they will add to the speech and to help everything run smoothly.
• Set up any computer visuals at the beginning of class NOT right before your speech. Doing the set up right before your speech makes everyone wait and slows down the energy of the class before your speech. Minimize your visuals so that others may set up. If using something like video, make sure to test it (with sound) as well.
• If you are planning computer visuals, have a backup plan too. The projector lightbulb may be out, the computer may refuse to read a flash drive or the internet may be erratic that day. Have at least one backup plan ready.
• Remember to look at the audience when you speak and not give your speech to the visual aid (really, this happens). This is a particular hazard of wordy visuals where the speaker ends up reading from the visual, but it can also happen with other types.

Good visual aids not only make your message more understandable, but also make it more interesting and memorable. Even if visual aids are not required, look for opportunities to add strong visuals that will enhance your presentation.


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About teachingpublicspeaking

I believe public speaking can go from most dreaded class to favorite class. I'm a former public speaking college instructor who spent years seeking out activities, assignments and examples to make the class interactive as well as educational -- they are collected here. I welcome suggestions for additions.

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