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Chapter 7. Visual Aids/Graphics A Pictur... > Principles of Good Visual Aids

Principles of Good Visual Aids

From a customer review board: "We said we wanted a presentation, not a written proposal projected onto a screen." With that scathing comment as a major yellow flag (or was that red?) waving in the air, here are some guidelines on creating visual aids that achieve their purpose (summarized in Figure 7-4).

  • Remember, they are aids. The most important element in the presentation is you, the presenter. The aids may be your most important tool, but your words and the way you conduct yourself are primary. If the entire message is on the visuals, why do we need you? Just send a clerk, who costs a third as much, to flip the charts. If the aid does not help you convey your message, it's a poor visual.

  • Visuals or graphics must be an integral part of the larger picture, the story. Thus the topics dealt with in the previous chapters—sound strategy, theme, clear organization, and good support—all are essentials. Without them, stunning graphics mean nothing, except to note that a lot of energy was wasted producing them. To have visuals track the story line, use the process discussed in Chapter 5, specifically moving from outline to storyboard rather than just popping in charts.

    Figure 7-4. Apply these guidelines for creating punchy visual aids.
    • Choose the best audiovisual medium to suit audience, purpose, situation, environment, and budget. High tech is not always better.

    • Good visual aids help communication go better and faster; poor visuals are seen too often.

    • Computer graphics programs can increase graphics quality and productivity, but they're only as good as the thinking that goes into them.

    • Hands-on visuals, such as props, displays and models, are strong audience attention-getters.

    • Visual power can be increased by better application of right-brain thinking.

    • Excessive reliance on bullet charts leads to boredom. Look for better ways.

    • Design visuals that help audiences get it better and faster.

    • Ensure that each visual conveys only one main idea. Use the title as a headline vs just a topic.

    • Make visuals readable. Choose fonts and colors wisely.

    • KISS—Keep It Simple, S_____.

    • Present no more than seven items—lines, labels, blocks.

    • Present material in bite-size pieces to keep the audience's attention focused.

    • Apply the wisdom that a picture may indeed be worth a thousand words.

    • Select the right graph form for best communication.

    • Be sure to proof visuals before heading to the conference room.

  • First ask, "What's the point?" A visual serves one main purpose: to help make a point. This concept often gets forgotten, and charts are tossed into the presentation because they're there. It's better to figure out the message and then determine the best way to show that. Many visuals have been wisely eliminated or extensively modified by that question (Figure 7-5).

    Figure 7-5. Each visual must answer one primary question.

  • White space is O.K. One manager, who has sat through many presentations, said "Our philosophy seems to be that if there's an inch of white space, fill it!" I've worked with many presenters whose idea of graphics is to keep adding on info ("So I won't forget to say it."), leading to the kitchen sink chart, which includes everything but the kitchen sink, is overloaded, and is way too complex.

  • KISS—Keep It Simple, Selene! This is a well-known adage, often ignored. For the audience, following a presentation is much like driving down a freeway. The passengers (listeners) have only a few moments to pick up the messages from the billboards, but they do, because the messages on the billboards are so simple. How many messages would they pick up if billboards looked like a page from the phone book? Not many. In the presentation, we want the audience to grasp our visual message quickly and listen to our words without moving on to other agendas in their heads or giving up because of information overload. Complex charts make that hard to achieve. "This may be the most common failing," says the Electro/Wescon Midcom Speaker's Handbook, "trying to reproduce a novel on the 35mm slide."[10]

  • Making them readable is paramount. It shouldn't be too much to expect that your projected graphics, with presumably useful information, be readable. From a long-time high-level governmental official: "With anybody I've ever talked to in the government, the first thing they'll bitch about is the visual they can't read. This is so fundamental yet so commonly violated."

    Mistake #1 is to display a chart that can't be read. Mistake #2 is to say, "I know you can't read this . . ." Guess what, we knew that the instant it hit the screen.

    A common response from audience members is, "Looks like another eye chart," referring to the optometrist's wall chart with several lines unreadable to the average eyeball. Keep in mind that many upper-level management audiences include older people. On numerous occasions, I've heard those executives remind presenters in this fashion: "This may surprise you, but my vision is not nearly as sharp as it was twenty years before. In other words, don't make these old eyes work so hard. Print larger."

  • Ensure logical flow from chart to chart. Consider how easy it is to follow a cartoon strip. Each visual logically leads to the next until the story is complete. It is much easier for the audience to follow your presentation if each visual ties in with the one before it. The storyboard and delivery script helps this to occur. If the visuals are disconnected, it comes across as jerky, and the audience has to reorient itself for each visual.

  • Interpret, don't just report. As the presenter, you are the expert on the subject being discussed. "The data speaks for itself" is a common expression. The trouble is, it may say different things to different people. Your job is to apply your expertise and insights to help those not as expert as you to understand the information.

  • Present more messages and less information. Information overload is universally hated and, unfortunately, extremely common. It's the main contributor to the MEGO Syndrome: "My Eyes Glaze Over." The value of a presentation is to help listeners understand the essence of the subject, to be alerted to vital conditions.

  • Focus on and highlight key information. Out of three factors, which is the most crucial at this moment? When explaining a ten-step process, is one step potentially the most likely to go wrong? If you've had five related assignments, did one in particular provide the best lessons learned for your proposed position? Design the visual so that these key items will be obvious and so they almost jump out at the audience.

  • Technology can add much to presentations, but watch that it doesn't backfire. Recall the comments from the Pentagon's top audience member about too many bells and whistles interfering with presentations. "It is nice to see the tools used in creative ways. They help, without a doubt," said Mike Cogburn, Anteon Corporation's COO. "They're especially valuable in creating proposals and presentations." And he cautions against getting carried away with gimmicks. "People are looking for content and message. For a while, presentations got too flamboyant; some went crazy as the technology had all these capabilities. It was irritating to be on the receiving end. Now they're not so jerky and jump around less."[11]

  • Change happens, so be ready for it. In many meetings, the presentation does not proceed on the planned course. Audience questions and directions may omit certain charts, delete entire segments, revisit previous charts. In planning your visuals, consider how you will be able to respond to such diversions. Learn about the options available in your computer systems so you can adjust, meet the need and impress the audience by your management under fire. This topic is addressed in the discussion on "staging" in Chapter 8.



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