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Public Speaking and Business Communications - Visual Aids - Design and Presentation Tips

Updated on March 18, 2015

Communication is complicated. Presenting with visuals is a necessary skill in today's business environment. Having the tools at hand to know what contributes to a great presentation is the foundation for success. The proper use of these multimedia visual aids is still a critical item to making a lasting impression upon your audience. While the visual is important, the presentation skills of the visual are just as important. In this Hub, we will walk you through some great tips and also provide the basics for the use and introduction of visual aids.

Similar to sailing, trimming your sail may set you ahead of the race. Trim your sail in communications, learn all you can and fill your toolbox to work and communicate most effectively. A key element to good communications is the visual aid. Beyond just your business attire, your presentation needs professional quality visual aids. Learn some great tips, watch the videos and apply to your next presentation.

Haley Tilsa: Creating and Using Visual Aids

Fun Video Called - Font Conference

Font Design

Toastmasters: Using Visual Aids

The™ store from Monotype Imaging offers more than 100,000 font products for you to preview, purchase and download. You can also learn about new typeface releases and discover typographic tips and techniques.

Fonts - Large to Small - Handwritten Print and More

various fonts
various fonts | Source

Guidelines for Best Visuals

  • Upper and lowercase type - NO ALL CAPS!
  • Simple easy to read fonts on all visual aids
  • High Contrasting Color - Background Verses Font
  • 40 Characters Per Line
  • 4 - 6 Lines for Each Visual Aid

Memorable Visuals

  • Plenty of Space
  • Consistency: Same Top Margin & Alignment
  • Similar Fonts Throughout
  • Headings and Bullets (one font for heading, one font for bullet works well throughout the visual)
  • Images & Color

Creating Organizational Charts with Power Point

Design of Visual Aids

People learn in many different manners, audio, visual, tactile/kinesthetic. In order to make a presentation work, we need to includes visuals - preferably a handout and an overhead such as a Power Point.

Purpose for the Visual Aid: Increase Audience Recall

Putting together a great presentation which is verbal only can yield results of your audience remembering only 70% and after 3 days only 10%. Add in a visual aid, you increase your audience recall from 70% to 85%!

"Speakers should no longer consider visual aids as optional but as absolute necessities!"

Visuals serve only one purpose to increase the clarity of the message you are communicating.


  • Bulleted items provide visual impact
  • Space commands attention
  • Appropriate photos - use sparingly
  • Readable fonts: Times New Roman, Arial
  • Font size range: 28 to 32 point; 36-44 for titles
  • Maximum number of lines per slide:eight for 28-point; six for 32-point
  • Remember space is an important part of the visual

Be prepared to present with or without visuals in case of an emergency!

Visual Aids Guidelines

3 General Rules

  1. Know your audience first and foremost.
  2. Your visuals, your power points, hand-outs are supporting materials. Use visual aids sparingly.
  3. For a general guideline take the number of minutes divided by 2 and plus 1%, this gives us a 10 minute speech - 5-6 visuals, and a 2 minute speech - 1-2 visuals, etc...

Engage and Connect with Your Audience

  • Visuals aids are not to be read, you are presenting key points from notes, from the visuals, do not read the paper, do not read the visual aids.
  • If you are reading you are not engaged in the subject. If you are not engaged in the subject, how can you expect your audience to be engaged?
  • Whenever possible, provide handouts, and be sure to bring enough copies. This will help the audience listen by freeing them from taking copious notes.

Tips for Power Points

  • Your presentation, your paper is the guide. You should know your audience and your goals. Is the goal to have the audience be persuaded? Is the goal for the audience to take action?
  • Prepare your presentation first with an outline. Know clearly your objective. Write your presentation in your head - no full script. You must "talk" not read. Select the points you wish to emphasize in your visuals.
  • Your Power Point is for talking points not for "reading". Keep the verbiage to a minimum.
  • Power Points should have a theme and be consistent throughout. Layout (vertical or horizontal), color, typeface and style should be similar unless you need to make a dramatic point on one or two slides.
  • Create common elements such as photos in the same area, logos or borders in order to add congruency to your visuals.
  • Typefaces should only change to denote emphasis.
  • General Rule - headings should be 20% larger than text.
  • In all cases, the typeface must be readable. Common typefaces are Arial, Times Roman, Helvetica.
  • Power Points work well flush left and not justified on the right.
  • When designing Power Points, use high contrast - black on white, white on black - make the visual pop
  • Plan your visuals for audience members with poor eyesight. Plan your presentation and your voice for those with poor hearing. Both mediums are critical to communication - emphasis both.
  • Use upper and lowercase. Never use all uppercase - difficult to read and some consider it "visual shouting". Reserve the shouting IF needed for items demanding emphasis.
  • Minimum font size for Power Points is recommended at 18.
  • Recommend 2 colors with the 3rd color reserved for emphasis.
  • Yellow/gold on a dark background is high contrast and very readable to the user. Tie in the colors to all of the Power Points.

Reminder - Not all fonts sizes are the same. A 24 point font might be fine in Arial, but will be smaller in Times New Roman

General Rule for Tables, Charts, Etc...Must be readable within 30 seconds

Tips on Tables

  • Tables should reflect the same feel as the rest of your presentation - keep common elements, same fonts, similar colors, logos where appropriate.
  • Always include the source of the numbers on the table.
  • Use the numbers sparingly. Summarize, round off the numbers - remember even the table is a talking point not a reference.
  • Remember: Contrast is critical for tables.
  • Don't be afraid of a black background - use it to your advantage and add a light font for greater contrast.

Tips on Pie Charts

  • Pie charts must be readable.
  • Combine slices - user no more than 6 slices.
  • Clearly identify the slices.
  • Color slices are preferred over patterns slices.
  • For emphasis, explode one piece of the pie to highlight. (When you create a pie chart in Excel, you can create it with all the slices together or all the slices spread apart "exploded".)

Tips on Bar Charts

  • As with the pie chart, the bar chart must be readable.
  • Keep bars to a minimum.
  • Use contrasting colors for effective communication.
  • Properly label and explain both the legend and the labels or axis.

Tips on Line Charts

  • Remember readability is the rule. Limit the lines to no more than 5.
  • Use contrasting color and thickness. Symbols are often difficult to follow visually.
  • As with the pie chart, limit the data. Eliminate where possible. Hit the key points for your illustration.
  • Labels on line charts should be readable - this means horizontal label not vertical labels.
  • Limit the reference to the legend as much as possible.
  • Keep the axis readable, divide the axis into multiples by counting up in 2s, 5s or the grouping as best appropriate for the ease of interpretation.

Body Language & Visuals

Be prepared - find a pointer, laser light or pen light. Never use your finger for pointing.

Remember you are in charge - not your visual. Your presentation comes first - make sure the visual do not lead you through the presentation.

Talk to your audience. Face your audience. Make eye contact with your audience. Never talk to your visual.

Hint: As a presenter, you will lose significant creditability if you use your finger and IF you talk to your visual - very ineffective body language. Your lack of self confidence will be clearly displayed IF you let the visual walk you through your presentation. It is critical for the sake of your message that you take control of the presentation.

Secrets of Master Presenters

Summary of Presentation

Create a Summary of Your Presentation - hand out before your presentation. See Power Point Tips.

Detailed Power Point Handout

Create a Detailed Handout complete with page numbers to hand out near the end of your presentation.

Use Blank Screen for Extensive Discussion

Experienced presenters hit b or . to have the Power Point go dark

Verbally Present the Visual BEFORE The Visual Appears

& Vary Your Transitions

Never read your visual.  Your audience will feel that you are talking down to them by reading the screen.

Add Blank Power Points At End

Create blank Power Point screens at the end of your Power Point. This allows you finish, discuss and then return to your summary.

Sales Meetings

If the purpose of your presentation is a marketing effort, print out your power point and have ready to leave with your client.  Only discuss three of the slides.  Explain that more information is in the packet for their review.

Presentation of Visual Aids

Information is relayed 83 percent from the eyes, 11 percent from the ears, 6 percent through other senses – taste, smell, touch. In order to control the presentation of the information – we must direct the eyes of our participants.

Know How to Blank Your Power Point Screen

Engage your audience and know when to turn your screen blank to concentrate upon the audience. Use "b" or "." or plan ahead with blank power point screens.

Blank Screens At End of Power Point

Create a couple of blank screens at the end o your Power Point. This will allow you plan ahead for the complete engagement of your audience.

How to Present Visual Information

Allan Peace and Barbara Pease outline some great tips on delivering your presentation and how to best incorporate your visuals. In their book The Definitive Body Book of Language 2004 by Bantam Books, they detail a great tip on how to direct your audience's eyes. This works great also for small group presentations as well as large. They have termed this action the "power lift". Shifting the participants eyes and guiding each step of the way.

“The Power Lift”

Use a pen to point to the presentation – in tandem verbalize the images.

When you are giving more details about the image after they have seen the image, lift the pointer or the pen to the ceiling – this will serve to direct their sight to you.

As you do this, the other hand needs to have the palm open.

Make sure you always use an open Palm. The "Palm-up" = non-threatening and also conveys a silent sense of authority to the presenter.

Remember, you are seeking to engage the participant/the audience, you do not want the person to feel pressured by your presentation.

Interestingly, the palm down invokes not just authority over the other person but dominance and will tend to have others feel antagonistic toward you.

Additionally, pointing with your finger invokes negative feelings in most listeners and lends the speaker less authority.

Common Transition Mistakes with Visuals

Too few – too few can make the presentation unclear, you can never have too many

Too brief – and…."and"…is just as much a no no as "um".

In addition…these are not better than no transition at all – not recommended.

Too similar - Need variety

Samples: Now let’s….let’s change…the next point…turning to…another area for consideration…the possibilities are endless. Plan your transitions and you will look polished.

Presentation Design - "A Build"

“A build is a series of slides or overheads in which each successive slide contains the bullet points from the preceding slides plus a new bullet point.

Builds have become a standard part of business presentations.”

Use builds to provide emphasis.

Number Your PowerPoint Handouts

I love this tip - keep the audience engaged and look very organized. Why number your handouts – if you print it out and reference a page number – your audience will be lost IF they don’t have the page number!

Follow-Up After Your Presentation

Send your audience a follow-up. Just a quick email. Take business cards and do follow-up within 48 hours. Your target audience will appreciate it and you will be more memorable.

Summary on Using Visuals for Your Presentation

Expect the best but plan for the worst. Always be prepare to give your presentation without visuals. Remember, the visuals are aids and should be talking points. Don't allow the visuals to lead you through the presentation. Guide your audience and use the visuals simply for reinforcement of your key points.

And never, under any circumstances read the power points. Reading a power point will insult and completely lose your audience.

3 Take Aways for Great Presentation of Visuals Aids

Three Communication Tool Take-A-Ways

#1 Maintain Eye Contact with the Audience - Do Not Read Your Visual Aid

The telltale sign of an inexperienced speaker is the one who has a conversation with their visual aid and loses their audience. Maintain eye contact with your audience. Your audience is your number one priority.

#2 Visual Aids Make Your Points Memorable

Research has shown that visual aid can make your presentation up to 75% more memorable. The audience's attention and retention are enhanced when visual are included.

The very best visual aids are a combination - both handout and power point/overhead/slides for talking points.

#3 Scale the Number of Visual Aids Directly with the Length of Your Presentation

Limit the number of your visual aids - scale to the length of your presentation, Don't overwhelm your audience. It is your job to simplify the subject. It is your time to showcase your knowledge not your power point skills.

Sales meetings work great with printing your Power Points and using only 2-3 of the graphics. You need your customer engaged yet you want the information and the detail for the customer to refer back to. if you walk through all the Power Points you will tend to read to your client and you will loose credibility with your client. Your job is to interact with your client. Leave information but when present - be present with eye contact and dialogue.

Notes of Appreciation & Sources

Source: Allan Peace Barbara Pease The Definitive Body Book of Language 2004 Bantam Books


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