Principles of Public Speaking
Blueprint for Speaking Success

Developing Effective Visual Aids

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A picture is worth a thousand words.

Avoid Death by Power Point

Have you ever had the bad experience of sitting in a lecture watching a professor's back as s/he wrote on the board? .It was painful, wasn't it?

Perhaps you'll also recall the mind-numbing slide shows that well-meaning family and friends would prevail upon you of their family vacations? You probably wanted to scream!

I still shudder at the professional meetings I've attended in which a speaker arrived armed with a 4-inch stack of overhead transparencies.

Today it's Power Point. The random transitions and default settings will irritate most audiences. Fortunately, the lights are generally dimmed so that the speaker cannot see the vulgar expressions that the audience is likely sending her/his way.

It's not that Power Point (and other computer-generated slide presentations) are inherently bad. They are not. But they are often so poorly used that they disable an otherwise excellent speaker from delivering a good message.

Projected Visuals Should be Big, Bold and Brief

Big: Make your visuals big. Ensure that everyone in the room can see them clearly. Do not project a page from a magazine or a handout.

Use larger font than you think necessary. When projected, words need to be 1"-2" large. Set your fonts to 48 or more.

Bold: Consider using builds for bulleted items. Don't try to show the entire slide at once. Bring support items in as you are making your case.

Bullets allow points to pop out. Use sans sarif font (like verdana, arial, helvetica) rather than the default (Times New Roman). Sans sarif is easier to read when projected; the sarif fonts are easier on handouts.

Brief: Ensure that you've plenty of white space on a projected image. This allows the audience to see your main point.

Do not write in complete sentences. Use phrases and ensure that your grammar is parallel and consistent. Use no more than seven words per line and no more than seven lines per page. In fact, many experts suggest that this be limited to five lines, five words per line.

Too often, novice speakers devote more time and energy to developing slides and too little time to developing their argument. Before you turn on your computer, turn on your brain and clarify your speaking purpose and thesis statement.

* The rules are different for handouts!

Preparing your visual aids is Step 6 of the Blueprint for Successful Speaking

Visual Aids should be used to assist you in providing a visual support for your words.
Be sure that any handouts include your source citations. can give you come useful tips for using visual aids.
Don't show your visuals until you are ready to speak about them. Then put them away!

Check your spelling and syntax else your visual will be more a distraction than an aid.

When creating a poster, slide, or projected image, "when in doubt, leave it out."
Click here to move to Step 7 of the Blueprint for Successful Speaking.
Click here to learn how to avoid Death by PowerPoint.
Bottom Line:
Keep It Simple, Speaker.
Copyright 2001-2006
Contact Nan Peck at
Updated June 19, 2006