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Use visuals effectively

Nevertheless, I've already conceded that for some audiences, on some occasions, and with some material, visuals may be useful or even necessary. Sales presentations, technical discussions, reports, presentations in which perfect understanding is required, and when a high degree of retention is desirable—these and others can benefit greatly from the proper use of visuals. I stress the word proper because there are right ways and wrong ways to use visuals. Here are some suggestions:

  • At the risk of being repetitious, my first suggestion is that you reject the idea of using visuals unless your material simply cannot be presented effectively without them. Don't use visuals as a crutch or as an excuse for not preparing a solid, well written, thoughtful speech.

  • Don't let your visuals take over the speech. Use them to support and reinforce, not to dominate, the message. Be selective. Use only the number necessary to do the job.

  • Never allow a visual to be seen until you're ready to discuss it, and don't leave one up after you've finished talking about it. The last thing you want is to find yourself competing with your own material for the attention of the audience.

  • Avoid using handouts for people to look at as you speak. Many in the audience will jump ahead and will miss what you say. Handouts are fine, but distribute them at the end of the speech.

  • Keep your visuals neat but uncomplicated. Use plain, easily readable type and simple artwork. A visual that's too glitzy or clever will draw attention to it and from the speaker. A visual that's too complex cannot be easily understood. A good visual is usually selfexplanatory.

  • Be sure that everyone in the audience can see the visuals clearly. This is something to consider when you check out the venue in advance of the presentation.

  • Be careful how you stand in relation to your visual. Don't block anyone's view.

  • Don't overuse a pointer. A pointer is a useful device to guide the audience's attention. If you use one, point specifically to each item as you discuss it rather than simply using the pointer to make gestures. Put the pointer aside when you're not using it. Fiddling with the pointer, or with anything else for that matter, can distract the audience.

  • Stay in control. Maintain good eye contact with the audience as you discuss the visuals. You want the audience to understand that the visuals are supporting what you say and not vice versa. The focus should always be on you.

  • If you use slides, have the room darkened only as much as necessary to make the pictures easily seen. You do not want to be in the dark or keep your audience in the dark—literally or figuratively.

  • Avoid the verbal twitter that often accompanies the use of visuals. Don't say things such as ''The next slide will show that . . .'' Just match your words to the slide and the audience will know what the slide shows.

  • If you use anything mechanical—projectors, slides, video monitors, whatever—remember Murphy's Law: Anything that can go wrong, will. President Reagan once made a television appearance in which he was supposed to use a felt-tip marker. But the marker failed, and there were some awkward moments until a ghostly hand appeared in the picture with a new pen. The moral is, test everything. And it's not a bad idea to have a spare pen, as Mr. Reagan learned.



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