Using Visual Aids

Visual aids can powerfully help the effectiveness of a speech. Many speeches benefit from having objects, images, key quotes, or data presented in a clear and dramatic fashion. Visual aids differ in kind, but there are similar benefits and tips for dealing with any kind of supplementary evidence that is shown to an audience. With verbal and visual aids, the speech given is able to be even more thoroughly understood.

Reasons to Use Visual Aids

  • Improves audience understanding and memory
  • Serves as notes
  • Provides clearer organization
  • Facilitates more eye contact and motion by the speaker
  • Contributes to speaker credibility
  • Save time
  • Add interest
  • Allow for different learning styles

Types of Visual Aids



Photographs, Pictures, Diagrams, Sketches

Projected Images
-overhead projectors
-PowerPoint presentation

Reviewing a Visual Aid

Once you have chosen your visual aid, here are a few questions to consider for your aids helpfulness:
  • Is the visual aid helpful, or is it confusing or irrelevant?
  • Are its color(s) distracting?
  • Will the meaning of the aid be clear to your audience?

Tips for Using Visual Aids

Stand to the side of the visual aid. Do not obscure the visual aid if possible. Traditionally, speakers have the visual aid on their left.

Maintain eye contact. While the visual aid will be tempting to many speakers, the audience should still be their focus. When a speaker loses eye contact, they often end up turning their back to the audience. A SPEAKER SHOULD NEVER TURN THEIR BACK TO AN AUDIENCE.

Introduce a visual aid before talking about the information contained in it. Giving background on where the information for the visual aid came from provides the audience with more resources for understanding the content of the speech.

Make sure the visual aid is of the appropriate size considering the rest of your project. If the visual aid happens to be too large it can possibly take away from the importance or understanding of the overall message and if the visual aid is too small it can possibly not add anything to the surrounding meaning.

Practice with a visual aid. Visual aid adds an additional focus for the audience, and practice with the aid gives the speaker an effective and smooth interaction with minimum distractions. Experience with one type of visual aid (a PowerPoint presentation, for example) does not necessarily provide the resources to deal with others.

Make sure the visual aid supports the message. Consistency between what is being said and what is being seen is crucial to a speaker's credibility.

Supplement, do not supplant, the speech with the visual aid. Do not allow the visual aid to overwhelm the speech itself. Visual aids are not crutches to lean on, but rather lampposts to illuminate.

Ensure the logistics of the setting are conducive to the visual aid. Make sure that everyone can see the visual aid, that any electronic equipment necessary for the visual aid is functioning (and that the speaker knows how to operate it), and that the visual aid is set up before the speech.

Point out key elements in the visual aid, especially if it is complicated. Pictures, charts, graphs, and some objects, are often so complex, with so much "going on," that the audience might need to be directed to the area of the visual aid that the speaker is referencing.

Avoid distributing materials before the speech. If there are supporting materials to assist the audience, they should be passed out either before or after the speech. Failing to do so will delay the speech, lead to unnecessary rustling of paper, and is an unnecessary distraction.

Limit lists. If the visual aid utilizes lists to communicate the central ideas of the speech, do not overwhelm the audience with endless lists on one slide or page. Generally, only five items should be on any single slide or page of a visual aid.

Remember that simplicity is a good design principle. Do not overload a visual aid with unnecessary information, color, font changes, or superfluous images.

Be prepared to give your presentation without your visual aids. Something can always go wrong using a visual aid, so be prepared just in case your visual aid is no longer usable.

Using visual aids will help users to retain what they learn and understand the help. Visual aids help to reach the objective
by providing emphasis on what the speaker is saying. They reinforce information given, clarify points, involve the users, keep their attention, and create excitement. Studies have shown that retention of information is greater with the use of visual aids. "Three days after an event people retain 10% of what they heard, 35% from visual presentation, and 65% from visual and oral presentation," says The United States Dept. of Labor.


Speaking in the Disciplines: Using Visual Aids. University of Pittsburgh. 14 Sept 2012.

Presenting Effective Presentations with Visual Aids. OSHA Office of Training & Education, May 1996. Web. 28 Sept. 2012.

Weber, Jean Hollis., and Tamar E. Granor. Is the Help Helpful?: How to Create Online Help That Meets Your Users' Needs. Whitefish Bay, WI: Hentzenwerke Pub., 2004. Print.

Original Author: Larita Clow
Contributors: Mario Garcia, Inez Funchess, Luis F. Regalado
Editors: Mario Garcia, Inez Funchess