DOs & DON’Ts for visual aids

Over the past few weeks I’ve been fortunate to see some really great presentations. The very best ones were highly engaging, interactive and memorable. As for the visual aids, there was not a bullet point to be seen. If you want to be remembered for your message (not the monotony of your slides), bear these DOs and DON’Ts in mind:


Have clear objectives. What do you need to happen as a result of this presentation? And what does your audience need to take away or do right then and there? Keep your objectives and your audience in mind as you create your presentation – and again when you edit it. Anything that doesn’t contribute to the objectives should be taken out.

Remember whom visual aids are actually meant to aid – that’s your audience, not you. When I run our ‘How to write presentations’ workshop I ask, “Who do visual aids aid?” and there are always some people who answer, “The presenter”. No no no. If you need visuals to remind yourself of what you’re saying, you haven’t prepared enough.

Use visuals to intrigue and engage. A picture really is worth a thousand words, and a well-chosen one can grab your audience’s attention, pique their curiosity or provoke their thinking.

Choose the right tool for the job. You might use an infographic to succinctly convey statistics in a more memorable way. Word clouds can be good to get your audience thinking, or communicate what others (such as consumers) think. A graph can be compelling if it tells the story people need to hear.

Remember you are your most powerful visual aid.


Talk to your slides instead of your audience. I’ve found that audiences will forgive presenter nerves, but not lack of preparation – it’s disrespectful. A loud “Er…” as you turn to your slide to remember what comes next and then read off it is a real giveaway. If your slides are so dense that you need to read off them, you’re packing in way too much information.

Offend. If you keep your audience in mind you’ll minimise the risk of this. Some audiences and some parts of the world can be a lot less forgiving of humour or vulgarity.

Use a small font. There’s more to this than meets the eye – pun intended. Our body language and feelings are inextricably linked. If you force your audience to squint and narrow their eyes in order to read your slides, in a short time their mood will match their expression – which could get hostile.

Overdo it. The sound effects, video clips, visual effects etc can be seductive when you’re putting your presentation together – then tedious and repetitive (or worse, irrelevant) when it’s all up on the big screen. The best way to assess this is to rehearse in front of a big screen, on your feet and out loud.

Rely on the screen. OK, if you’ve got a huge audience there may be less choice, but there are other ways to use visuals to engage audiences. Having a card or visual on each person’s chair when they arrive can get them involved, particularly if it’s something that you’ll use in an activity. A demonstration can be powerful. Telling a great story can allow the audience to create their own visuals in their mind’s eye.

You may also find this blog post useful: 4 alternatives to the ‘hard copy of the deck’ take-away.

If you need more help on structuring your presentation, I recommend Nancy Duarte’s book ‘Resonate’, which I review here.

And of course you can always contact me to discuss how Zoomly workshops can help.

Dawn is the author of ‘How to be Zoomly at work’, available on Amazon.

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