Michael H. Schaefer, DTM

One on One Coach, Keynote Speaker, Leadership Trainer

I See What You Mean!

The Power of Visual Aids in Speaking

Ever been in this situation?

And did your thoughts sound like this:

“How many more of these slides do we have to go through?  …Hey, buddy, I can read the slide myself …Maybe I’ll just check my Blackberry …Listen to this? I’ll get the handout; it’s the exact same thing as the presentation …I know, I’ll have one of my famous coughing fits and excuse myself from the room …Can’t this guy tell we’re all in AGONY?”

The bad news is that all over the world slideshows are being added to speeches that seem to have been designed by psywar specialists, the kind of people that also like to blast music or strobe lights until you crack from the pressure. It’s not that visuals like this persuade anyone of anything, but they can wear the audience into numb submission. But true acceptance? I know too many companies that have to schedule follow up meetings or emails to review what was supposedly already covered in these presentations.

The good news is you will be a superstar if you use well designed visuals.

Mattias Pöhm, author of The PowerPoint Fallacyand a preeminent speaker coach in Europe, believes in completely doing away with PowerPoint software. His solution to keep the attention in the room is the good old flip chart. He likes to draw the audience in by drawing content by hand in real time. Excellent for simple, bold points.

The larger questions to address, no matter what tool you use, are: what is the purpose of your talk, and, how do you connect most effectively with your audience?

PowerPoint and its cousins are most suited to speeches that involve some form of persuasion in business: sales, roll out of new initiatives. It is particularly unsuited to data heavy communication or strongly emotional address. In the first case, our collective nightmare involves sitting through 20-30 slides like this:

Been there, hated that.

In the second case, the visual element may actually distract from a deeper communication with the audience. The more the audience has to decode your visuals, the less time they spend connecting with you. The very nature of a slide is unemotional. It washes out the force of emotion you should be using as you deliver your message.

(For a brilliant example of how reductive slides can be, check out this satirical slideshow that might have accompanied Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in a parallel universe:)


To build a better presentation, check out this presentation:


(My two cents:) While the slides here function as a stand alone teaching tool, any presentation you build should be utterly dependant on you the speaker to make sense of it, bring it to life. Otherwise, why speak in the first place? Distribute a report if you aren’t bringing something to the audience yourself.

Other Visuals: Props, Photos, or Video. Depending on the occasion, props can be powerful metaphors. Teddy Roosevelt used a big stick. Steve Jobs holds up the latest iThing at a product launch.

Images. Save 10K words by using a picture in your speech as an emotional trigger. Project it as a slide or pass it as a hard copy to make your point. Nothing like an image to deliver clarity. (And nothing like video clips to engage an audience)

Visuals Provide Clarity

Studies show that visuals significantly increase retention of your message. So if you want your message to stick in the audience’s mind,

    Start Using Visuals.

…Next time:  Open big!

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