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Visual Aid Warnings!

This lesson is a part of an audio course How to Present Like a Professional Speaker by Andy Edwards

In the last lesson, we handles the Q & A session and subsequently concluded our speech in the most memorable way possible.

And throughout, you have been probably been illustrating your subject matter with visual aids.

Now there are a few versions of visual aids, but this lesson will concentrate on the wonderful – but appallingly abused PowerPoint presentation.

Other visual aids – for instance, tangible things you want to show the audience, should not be too small to see from a distance – or you must be happy that the audience handles to item or items and pass them around. Careful here – this can also act as a distraction to the people who are passing, receiving – and those looking on in anticipation of their turn.

You can use a tangible visual aid to build up tension – I saw a speaker wheel on a full-sized skeleton – and not refer to it until the final seconds of her talk… or to create surprise – that same speaker could have set the skeleton up on stage covered with a cloth and done a dramatic 'reveal' at the appropriate point. Up to you.

Personally, I recommend tangible visual aids… balloons – pieces of equipment, posters, boxes (what's in that!? I wonder), anything that has a part to play in illustration of your talk.

But now to your slides…. And the overwhelmingly popular choice is PowerPoint – although the principles I am about to share apply to anything similar.

Remember that your slides are there to support what you say. The audience wants to hear from you, not read the slide – so NEVER use slides with a block of text acting as a 'script' and read to your audience. This is a terrible, dreadful, and inept thing to do – and indicative of the ultimate amateur.

It's actually patronising to the audience – you think they can't read for themselves? And highly disruptive you your flow – simply because the audience can read faster in their heads than you can out loud – so they are already ahead of you and wondering why you are still on the first line – so they switch off.

When it comes to visual aids in the form of slides, less information is more. Look at these two bullet points:

The mistake that lawyers made in the Peters Vs. Jackson case (2001 Judgement in favour of Jackson case no. 2771.12) saw that evidence can be submitted without prior notice (vis a vis Jon vs. Jon. Citation; LAWBOOK 7 p.10 paragraph 2) and thus affect the efficacy of transient trace materials.

The temptation will be to read the slide and include too much information (which your audience will

already have read). Instead, try using a much shorter bullet point, "The Peter Vs. Jackson error," and talk about the peripheral issues with your audience – perhaps telling a story rather than delivering dry facts…

Ensure bullet points are not full sentences – again, the temptation will be to read them. Ideally, use pictures, diagrams, or charts to illustrate what you are saying – rather than actually containing what you are saying. Careful, though – anything too whacky or strange might also disrupt the audience's concentration. And don't throw the baby out with the bathwater – text has its important place in a presentation… just not too much of it!

And here's a BIGGIE! If slides DO have bullet points, then REVEAL each point in sequence rather than stick the slide up with all your points visible. More than anything else, this is a mistake that pretty much EVERY non-professional speaker makes – and even some professional ones…

This is fundamentally important. If you DON'T reveal each point as you get to it, your audience, as suggested earlier, will read the bullet points ahead of you whilst NOT listening to you talking about the first point, then get bored as you make the points that they have just read. AVOID THIS AT ALL COSTS. If you can't get PowerPoint to do this (and it's not hard), then pay someone to do it for you… it's THAT crucial. Reveal bullet points one at a time.

Never use more than 5 bullet points. If you need more, go on to another slide. Ensure fonts are of a size that's clearly readable.

If you find yourself saying: "I'm sorry, you probably won't be able to read this slide…" YOU SHOULDN'T HAVE USED IT!

Next time, create a slide with the highlighted point you want to make rather than a set of information that looks fine as a sheet of a4 but terrible as a PowerPoint slide.

A recommendation I sometimes make to CEO's and Senior leaders of organisations is that any supporting spreadsheets or information sheets should be made available as a handout and never attempted to force on to a screen. The ONE exception I have seen that worked well is a terribly busy, complicated PowerPoint screen simply serving to illustrate that the issue was intricate and complex.

If you go for audio/visual element to your PowerPoint presentation, you have just increased your chances of messing up by about 500%. I am not suggesting you DON'T have an embedded video or soundtrack, but please know what you're doing or get someone who does. The technicalities of getting this right are beyond the scope of this training course – so if you absolutely MUST have it, get help.

And finally, just because PP can have things fly out, sparkle, change colour and make noises does not mean you should use ANY of them. In fact – just don't.

Your exercise is to review – or create PowerPoints bearing in mind what I have just said. Stand on the other side of the room – if you can't read the slide, don't use it – or reduce the words!

The final lesson will wrap up all we have learned.

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Written by

Andy Edwards

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