Since 1977, over 10,000 Spokespersons Trained.
Part 1 - Delivery

Chapter 8
Visual Aids

Any prop, chart, slide, or handout used by a speaker may be classified as a visual aid. Visual aids are nothing more than a means of helping the audience understand or “visualize” a concept. They can be great attention-getters and interest-holders. They can also be awkward or distracting. The idea is to get the visual aid to work for you – and not the other way around.


Props are usually small enough for the speaker to hold in his/her hand. One exception is a display or a model.

The very nature of small props makes them easy to work with at the podium. They can be kept out of audience view until needed, produced for inspection, then stored away. Small props should not be used if the audience needs to see small details on them. It’s difficult for the audience to get a feel for anything from a distance other than size, shape, number, or color. If communicating this limited information is insufficient, you should use other methods.

“Hands-on” devices are popular with most audiences. Holding the items for close inspection concentrates audience interest. But beware: if you distribute handouts during your presentation, you may rest assured that listener attention will be diverted from you to the handout. This may not be desirable. Don’t compete with your handout. Don’t distribute it until you need it. Consider placing it near the exit to be picked up following your presentation.

Always treat products or props with respect; they communicate positive information on your behalf. Handle them with loving care. The way you treat the item will nonverbally imply its value. Likewise, if you hold an item in low esteem and want to communicate that low value to the audience, then treat it in an offhand, negative fashion. This subtle method applies especially to documents you may be quoting from.

If you use large models and displays, you limit your flexibility as a speaker. It is true that they help you obtain and hold audience interest. As with all visual aids, however, they must be large enough for the entire audience to see clearly.

Whether you use props or large displays, keep them covered until you’re ready to focus audience interest on them. Then unveil them for maximum effect.


Slides may be a good way to reach large groups in cases where props may not work.

When working with slides, always take great care to insure that everything works properly. Slides that are out of order, upside-down, or backwards can be disruptive and embarrassing. Also, your slides can be worthless without an extension cord or an extra light bulb.

If you plan to use slides, be sure to use them as you rehearse. If you intend to have someone else run the slide projector during your speech, include that person in your rehearsals. Equip your projectionist with a copy of your speech; he/she needs to follow along and make slide notations as necessary. If you work this way, you may be able to eliminate the distracting command, “Next slide, please.”

If you are using slides, don’t hide in the dark narrating during the slide show. Stay in command of the speaking situation. Stay in view of the audience; keep the room lighting high enough that you and your listeners can see each other. Use blank slides (which make the screen dark) to focus total attention back on you for important emphasis, and for transitions. As some slides look perfectly clear and simple from a distance – but are impossible to decipher at close range – you may find it useful to have black-and-white copies of the slides accompanying your script for easy reference. A pointer of some type may also be handy and time-saving.

Physical placement of the projector should take the audience’s comfort into account. Projectors are noisy and distracting to those who sit near them. It is usually good policy to isolate your projector as much as possible.

Flip Charts

Although they are difficult to use with large groups, flip charts or easels offer certain advantages that slides lack. Flip charts allow speakers to create visual aids as the situation merits, to meet specific audience needs and interests. Audiences feel a sense of participation in spur-of-the-moment graphics and explanations (even though you may have rehearsed them – even extensively – prior to the presentation). Blackboards can have a similar effect, but they are less versatile and messier.

Flip charts offer you several options: preparing visuals completely prior to the engagement, partially complete, or “spontaneously” during your speech. I lean toward the latter two. You should always encourage audience participation and, if “drawing a picture” helps them visualize a concept and feel a part of it, then you are succeeding. Saving key bits of information to be added to your charts until they are needed during your presentation is a good way to draw the audience in.

The most important rule to remember when using an easel is to make your graphics large enough for everyone to see, yet simple enough for all to understand. Colors are nice; clever artistry is unnecessary. Give your scribblings life by physically touching and massaging them to squeeze all the important information from them.

Be careful not to stand in front of your easel, because you block the audience’s view. Also, don’t get carried away with your artistry and wind up talking to the chart at your listeners’ expense.

The audience must hear you. Microphones aren’t a crucial consideration here because as a rule, if a PA system is necessary, flip charts are inappropriate – they’re simply too small for large gatherings.

An important advantage of flip charts over other devices is the opportunity they give the speaker to move around. The movement back and forth to the chart helps relieve nervousness. Many speakers place lightly penciled notes on the charts, invisible to the audience, which give direction and help eliminate trips to the podium. This little tip also helps speakers appear very well versed in the subject, as they seem to be pulling detailed information right off the top of their heads.

Videotape Equipment

More and more speakers are using videotape equipment as a communication tool. As video monitors approximate home television viewing, it is important to have enough sets dispersed throughout the audience for easy viewing. Images can be “frozen” on screen and discussed, or the audio portion eliminated. Don’t attempt to compete with the sound system. The sound must be turned off while you speak. Even veterans who should know better repeatedly make this error.

Extensive video set-ups should be completed and well tested in advance of your speech. It’s a good idea to have a skilled technician nearby to deal with unexpected problems and adjustments.

With electronically powered visual-aid devices, care should be used to secure the wires and cords, so you needn’t fear becoming entangled – or having audience members trip over them. And, as with all visual aids, it pays to rehearse with them.

Visual aids can be effective. Some work; others don’t. All compete with you for audience attention; because of that, they should be exposed only when needed, and quickly disposed of when not in use. Visual aids are not a prerequisite to effective speeches. In fact, many speakers rely on them as a crutch. Don’t drag visual aids in by the heel. If you have a legitimate need for them, by all means make use of whatever tools you need. But also keep in mind the legacy of great orators and great speeches throughout history that survived nicely without the aids of props, flip charts, or slides.

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