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Presentations with Pizzazz! The Top 10 Considerations when selecting your Visual Aids

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Nervous about making presentations? Welcome to the human race! Public Speaking has for many years consistently been rated as adults’ #1 fear. Amazingly, this phobia rates higher than fear of snakes, spiders, flying and other potentially scary things and life events.

At the same time, delivering effective and impactful presentations in a variety of contexts in the business world has become a skill crucial to our continued and future success. Think of all the circumstances in which you are asked to lead a discussion, present a proposal or convey new information. As our careers take flight and our business grows, we may be called upon many times to inform, inspire, motivate, encourage, educate, promote, sell, persuade, market and convince many people. Being confident as a presenter is an invaluable asset to take with us through our journey.

Developing this confidence takes time. There are many skills to be acquired (yes – the ability to present well is a skill, not necessarily something you’re born with - and as a skill it can be learned!).

One of the elements of skill used by a presenter is the manner in which they support their message(s) visually. Research has shown that (in face-to-face communication), your listeners receive only 7% of the meaning of your communication from the words you say. A further 38% of meaning they derive is delivered by the manner in which you speak (how fast, loud, etc.). The remaining 55% is communicated to your audience by whatever they see.
This serves as a compelling reason for a presenter to use some form of visual aids. Furthermore, studies have shown that approximately 83% of the information our brain processes throughout our lives will enter via our sense of sight. Consequently, as a human race we are 'wired' quite strongly to be visually stimulated. Lack of visual input can lead the brain to be bored and drift off to think of other things that are more enjoyable and/or keep it more active! (By the way, if you're thinking we could do this via simply speaking faster - beware! The brain's processing speeds are up to 10 times faster than the average rate of speech! So there’s no hope of our mouths ever being able to keep up with our listeners’ brains!)

As presenters of information, we should be using visuals to add interest, make strong and emphatic points, keep our audience (and ourselves!) on track, summarise, clarify and add variety.

So this brings us to the question of what kinds of visual aids can or should we use? This is a bit like the ‘how long is a piece of string?’ question. The answer depends on many different factors.

Here are the Top Ten Considerations in selecting your visual tools. Please remember - there are few 'rights' or 'wrongs' concerning which presentation aids you use. Each will have its own advantages and disadvantages. Your choice should particularly be determined by the context in which you are working. Additionally, when choosing your tools, consider the following:

  1. The purpose of your presentation (is it to inform, inspire and/or instil new skills?)
  2. The purpose in your use of a particular aid (are you using it at this point to emphasise, clarify, summarise, stimulate, add variety, shift the focus or change the pace?)
  3. The audience's cultural norms (Will they feel anything other than PowerPoint is unprofessional? Will they find flip charts too informal?)
  4. The size of your audience (can the person furthest away clearly see what you're presenting?)
  5. The space available to you (remember you need to allow yourself plenty of room to move)
  6. The equipment available to you (and your ability to fix problems 'on the fly')
  7. The time, money and resources you have available to prepare the aid (unprofessional slides are possibly worse than no slides at all!)
  8. The location of your presentation (can you transport all equipment that's needed or is it available to you at the venue?)
  9. The duration of your presentation (the longer it is, the more variety is needed to maintain attention and aid retention)
  10. Your experience in using an aid (it should always appear these are a mere extension of you with which you are totally comfortable)

Perhaps the most important consideration of all is the last one I mentioned. Have you ever been in the audience of a presenter who repeatedly tripped over the legs of the chart stands, didn’t know how to turn the overhead projector on and off, apologised for the quality of their writing on the whiteboard and generally looked uncomfortable with the entire process? Please understand, I’m not saying as presenters we must be infallible! (I believe displaying your ‘humanness’ while presenting is quite an asset.) I am saying we need to at least (1) know what it is that we want to say and (2) be at ease with the tools we have chosen to help us say it!

So when next you are asked to ‘stand and deliver’, you can be confident that you have put the necessary thought into the selection of your presentation aids and the required practice into being able to use them with finesse, professionalism - and pizzazz!

© Sandi Givens, 2011

Permission to reprint this article is welcomed provided the following:

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