Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Three questions to ask yourself about the ‘Visual Aids’ in your business presentation

Before embarking on a business presentation the presenter should always review their content, asking themselves three fundamental questions about their Visual Aids. PowerPoint should certainly be included within the scrutiny; indeed that is probably where the questions need to be most probing.

1. Are my Visual Aids visual?

Without getting bogged down here in a debate about pictures vs. words, can your audience actually see the detail of your Visual Aids? How many times have you heard presenters declare: “I know you can’t really see this but….”.  Clearly it’s not visual, so it’s not aiding anyone; it may even be doing more harm than good.

Some of the business presenters I have coached remain oblivious to this point, so I end up asking them to come and join me towards the back of the room, where I ask: “Can you see anything on that screen”? 

To be sure that your Visual Aid is truly visual you therefore need to see it on the screen on which you will eventually be presenting and you need to view it from the back of the room. You may be surprised at how a Visual Aid that looked clear on your computer or the page from which you scanned it becomes quite indistinct once displayed on a big screen. 

Particular danger areas include:
  • Grey print on a white background, which can become washed out.
  • Maps and property plans with a level of detail that was designed to be read close up.
  • Graphs with thin lines – which probably need bolding – and discreet, over-detailed or even sideways-positioned legends and axis markers.

As I say, I am not going to get into a pictures vs. words debate here, but you need to bear in mind that any bullet point loses most of its impact once it tips over into two lines. Look at the pictures below – a slide written for a business pitch; it is fine for a document, but useless for presentation. Then the same slide, edited down to work effectively as a Visual Aid.

Finally, bear in mind that you can fall foul of having too many pictures, every bit as much as you can having too many words. How many times have you been presented with a slide filled with multiple illustrations, making you think ‘where am I meant to be looking?’, with the result that you lose the thread of what is being said.

2. Who are my Visual Aids aiding?

All focus with any presentation should be on the needs of the audience. So are your Visual Aids helping the audience to understand what you are saying more clearly?  If they are simply helping you to remember what to say, they are not Visual Aids, they are prompts – and these should not be on display!

3. Are my Visual Aids actually aiding anyone?

The most effective way to select Visual Aids is to start with none whatsoever – and that means no PowerPoint. Run through what you are planning to say to this particular audience and you will achieve a natural flow, in your own style – you will not find yourself being driven by whatever Visual Aids you have compiled. At certain points you will probably find yourself struggling to describe something or taking longer than you should to do so – in which case you probably need a Visual Aid. You only really want a Visual Aid on display if it is actively helping your audience – and thereby you – at this particular moment. You might be surprised at how few you really need.

There is plenty of research to prove just how important the visual sense is to communication and in particular to ensuring that messages are retained. But too many so-called Visual Aids are neither visual nor an aid to anyone.

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