Often public speaking textbooks give visual aid advice that is overly technical, too simplistic for computer-savvy college students or just hopelessly outdated. I’m always on the search for basic advice that is also practical and will apply to a variety of software programs.
Andrew Dlugan’s “Slide Fonts: 11 Guidelines for Great Design” from the Six Minutes blog gives great advice (though I’m still partial to serif fonts myself) along with picture demonstrations about why the advice works, which you can use for class.
If you need some good material on visual aids, especially slides, this would be a good reading assignment for students or rules to present in class. It could be turned into an activity if followed by several “rule-breaking” examples for discussion.
One challenge I give my students is that they are not allowed to use all-text visual aids for their speeches. There must be VISUAL elements like photos, diagrams, or charts if they are going to use slides (and this challenge is immediately followed by an explanation of the difference between a 75-minute class of students taking notes and a 6-minute speech of classmates who are not since their instructor is a frequent creator of the bullet list…).
This blog from JeffBullas.com features 20 different tools for creating infographics, including timelines, word pictures, interactive maps and charts. Each tool is briefly described for its best features.
Unless visual aids are a big part of your class, this probably would not take up class time, but would be a nice link to provide to students online or to have available to students who ask for help.
This simple graphic from Hot Butter Studio is an excellent example of an effective use of visual aids.
I emphasize to students that visual aids should not just repeat what the speaker is saying (although their professors will often use them this way to simplify note-taking). However, most audiences for speeches are not taking notes because they expect to be tested over content, so visual aids should only be used when they can ADD something that the words alone cannot provide.
One effective use of visual aids is to help the audience visualize numbers. Simply listing the numbers will not be as effective as putting those numbers in a meaningful context, as this example illustrates.
In addition to showing the example in class for how and why to show data, it could also be part of a class activity where students analyze a series of visual examples for effectiveness — what does it get right, get wrong, or whatever your textbook gives as standards for good visual aids.
The Simpsons: Season 6, episode 14
This Simpsons clip contains features yet another town meeting. The residents have gathered to hear the town’s plan to protect them as a comet is hurtling toward the town. It is a nice example of visual aids.
Some follow-up questions for students:
- What two types of visual aids do we see used here?
- Are they used effectively?
- What function does each serve?
Scott Schwertly of Ethos3 offers “5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Read From Your Slides.” This brief article reinforces several things public speaking teachers say (or should be saying) to distinguish slides from the text of a written-out speech.
This article could be offered to students as supplemental reading (especially to those who fall into this habit). Alternately, the list could be offered in class and students broken into groups and asked to develop some strategies to help avoid doing this — keep slides simple, have separate notecards too, practice your material, etc.
Entrepreneur magazine online offers “10 Honest and Completely Helpful Tips for Hitting a Public-Speaking Homerun.” The article is written in a light and funny style, yet hits most of the important points that public speaking teachers try to drive home — tell stories, do not read, and do not try to be someone else during your speech. There is also very good advice for handling Q&As.
The article also provides links to related points like the PowerPoint 10, 20, 30 rule. It would be a nice reading assignment to include about style if you are not using a public speaking textbook (say, including public speaking as part of another class) or to offer to students who have everything else working but still struggle with nerves or an overly formal presentation style.
Jayda Pugliese at Lifehack has compiled a list of five computerized visual aid alternatives to PowerPoint. Each one includes some of the benefits and potential drawbacks and a link to a video showing how it works.
If you want to push your students a bit with visual aids — or overhaul your own visual aid options — this gives some interesting choices. Number 5 on the list says it is particularly good for students (or groups of teachers) preparing group presentations. The videos themselves may have potential to show and assess as informative presentations as a homework assignment or in-class activity.
Author and presentation trainer Scott Schwertly of Ethos3 offers some great examples of restyled PowerPoint slides. His team took four typical-looking presentation slides (which I suspect will look very familiar to those of us who teach college students) and restyled them to have more visual impact.
In the article with the examples, he reviews the rules for good visual aid design and discusses what you want your visual aids to do and when you should leave the information on your presentation instead.
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.
Jeff Haden at Inc.com offers “10 Phrases Great Speakers Never Say.” While this list is not directed toward students, it does include several mistakes that students often make. Along with listing each mistake it also explains why it is a mistake and what to do instead.
This would be a good addition to a class web site or to cite as backup, especially regarding how to treat visual aids.