Decide on Visuals and Props :

Giving Oral Presentations

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Decide on Visuals and Props :

The content of the visuals you choose will obviously be controlled in part by the content of your talk. Here are some ideas for the content of your visuals:

  • An outline of your talk (or, if you are summarizing a written report in your talk, an outline of that report)

  • Key concepts or points

  • Definitions of key terms

  • Tables, charts, graphs and diagrams

  • Pictures, photographs or drawings

  • For a short talk, you usually don't need too many props or visuals. And in most situations, the simpler the better. If your technology overwhelms your ideas (or if the technology fails or works only after time spent fid-dling with it), people may remember the technology, not the ideas. What is appropriate will, of course, vary from situation to situation. An architect (or architecture student) presenting ideas for a new riverfront condo-minium development will be expected to bring some visual renderings of the project for people to see. But an English major giving a talk on versions of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility can probably get by with a simple one - page handout to distribute to classmates.

    Here are some possible kinds of visual aids:

    An outline on a blackboard : In a classroom setting, this is the bare minimum.

    Handouts : Keep them simple and low-tech. Make sure you have enough and that they are distributed before you and any other speakers begin to talk. Also make sure to put your name and the date on all handouts.

    Poster boards : Some of the best uses of poster boards we've seen have involved making visuals in PowerPoint, blowing them up and printing them out poster board size and attaching them to the poster boards. Most copying services can do this directly from your computer files.

    Flip charts : You can make these up in advance or you can use the blank flip charts for an interactive presentation in which audience members brainstorm ideas for discussion. You can appoint a scribe to write the ideas down and tape the sheets up on the wall. Then you have all the ideas visually displayed around the room to guide the discussion.

    Demonstrations : Sometimes you'll want or need to show something to your audience - how it works, how the parts fit together, etc…. Do be careful, though to anticipate how much time this will take.

    Samples and models : For some topics, there is no substitute for bringing a sample of the object or product or a model of the construction. Remember, though, that if you want to pass something around during your talk, it is going to cause some distraction.

    Overhead transparencies : A tried-and-true technology available just about everywhere overhead projector does not even require a screen - just about any wall will do. Again, you can use presentation software to make your own transparencies at a nearly professional level.

    Digital graphics : With a laptop and a digital generator, you can create marvelous graphics. But the technology can overpower a short talk. Remember, the focus needs to be on you and your message, not on the technology.

    The setting, the audience, your topic and the purpose(s) of your talk will all help determine what visual aids you use. Do keep in mind that you need to leave each visual up for a minute or two. So for a seven-minute presentation, four visuals might be the maximum.

    Some Guidelines for using Visuals :

    Make sure everything - including the lettering - is big enough to be clearly legible, even from the back of the room. If you are printing lettering on poster boards, the letters will need to come out at least two inches high (that means 24-point type, at least, 36 - or 48 - point is better). The same size considerations apply no matter what medium you use - on a screen, the letters also need to be at least two inches high.

    Keep it simple. Each visual must focus on just one thing. Your au¬dience cannot absorb more than that in the time they have to see it. And be careful not to include too much text-four or five lines of text, with six or seven words per line, is about all anyone can read on a screen. Remember, too, that it is never a good idea to put up a transparency of a typewritten page. You want your audience listening, not reading.

    Du not put your whole presentation in your visuals. The visuals and props are there to reinforce your major points, not to duplicate your presentation. You do not want people trying to read lengthy visuals as you speak. You want people to glance at the visuals, but to pay attention to you. One terrible misuse of presentation graphics is to put all the words on overheads and then to just read them. If all the words are there to be read, who needs a speaker?

    Refer to your visuals - do not stare at them. Deliver your talk to your audience, not to your visuals. Just refer to the visuals in passing.

    Visuals need to add to your talk, not take away from it. If setting up the technology lakes too long and you end up doing it in front of your audience, it's not worth it. Better to keep your visuals simple (keeping in mind that what is simple for a college student may be very different from what is simple for a vice president of General Motors) and foolproof. If the technology is dazzling but your talk is forgettable, the audience will remember the wrong thing (unless you're selling the technology). If tinkering with your visuals and props interrupts your presentation (the Web page won't download, the markers for the dry - erase board won't mark), you would have been better off without any visuals at all.

    To continue the section on
    Giving Oral Presentations,

    Size up the situation.

    Write out a rough draft of your talk.

    Outline your talk from your draft - start planning your visuals.

    4. Decide on props and visuals.


    Deliver the talk.

    Answer Questions Carefully.

    Get feedback.

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