Lesson 14 Seeing is Believing

good speaking is more than words, as we’ve said numerous times already. One nonverbal element of a good speech is the use of visual aids. Visual elements are important for several reasons. First, they grab your audience’s attention. Second, they allow your listeners to use their eyes as well as their ears. Third, visual aids reinforce your ideas by providing concrete examples of abstract principles.

Visual aids refers to just about anything your audience can see. This can include those negative visual aspects we’ve discussed in previous lessons, such as a loud necktie (we’ll take a closer look at visual distractions in the next lesson), as well as anything tangible that helps the audience better understand your words.




–Seeing iS belieVing–
Maps, charts, graphs

One of the most effective forms of visual aid is a three- dimensional object. Demonstrative speeches practi- cally require objects to be effective, as you will want to demonstrate whatever you’re talking about. A speech on how to repair a computer, for example, ought to include a real-life computer for demonstration.

But objects are not restricted to demonstrative speeches by any means. When you were a child, you undoubtedly had teachers who gave “object lessons,” lessons that taught some abstract principle using a real-life object as an illustration. This is a very power- ful speech technique, and it should not be limited to children. Here are some ways that you can add objects to your speech:

n Make it pertinent to your point. Simply hold- ing up some random object is not the goal here. Your visual aid must advance your speech in some way. A clock might be useful in a speech on the history of time-keeping, but it might not be helpful in a speech on present tax rates.

n Make the connection clear to your audience. Your visual aid might seem completely unre- lated to your topic (which doesn’t really con- tradict our previous point). For example, you might in fact use a clock as a visual aid in a speech on current tax rates—if you clearly con- nect it to your topic by turning back the clock as you speak about returning tax rates to a for- mer time period.

n Make sure the audience can clearly see your visual aid. Your “turn back the hands of time” idea in using a clock will only be effective if the audience can see the hands moving backward.

n Make it interactive. Simply holding up a clock while speaking about turning back time is far less effective than actually interacting with the clock, such as by making the hands move in reverse.

A traditional method of adding visuals to a speech is to use large printed materials. These can still be very effective tools today, providing a great deal of technical information in an easily understood visual format.

Maps are useful whenever you are speaking about a geographical region, because they help your audience see visually where the region is in relation to them- selves. Charts and graphs can take abstract informa- tion and make it come alive, showing trends, percentages, numerical relationships, and so on, in col- orful detail.

The downside to these traditional methods is that they tend to be fairly labor intensive. You might be familiar with the traditional “fip chart,” which is essen- tially a huge pad of blank paper that you can fip through, page by oversized page. The diffculty is that these pages are blank, which means you need to fll them with your own visual aids, drawing charts and graphs by hand. It might be simpler to create such aids on a computer or to download them off the Internet beforehand.

Follow these tips when using traditional methods:

n Make sure the audience can clearly see your aids. You might need to get an easel to prop them up, and you might even be forced to elevate the easel on a stage or riser. Seat your- self at the very back of the room to fnd out how diffcult it will be to see your visual aids.

n Explain them to your audience. This is espe- cially true of any types of graph or chart that have multiple things going on. For example, a pie chart showing percentages of income from various sources will need to be explained, pointing out each slice of the pie and explain- ing what it represents. When using maps, point out where your audience is on the map and where the area is that you’re discussing.


–Seeing iS belieVing–

n Avoid clutter. This is the corollary to the previ- ous principle. It might be tempting to cram all your information into one fow chart—especially if you have to create it by hand—but that can be counterproductive. Keep the charts simple, and use multiple charts to cover lots of information.

n Do not stand in front of your aids. This is especially problematic with these traditional forms of visual aids, because you will want to point out elements of each one as you speak. Your temptation will be to face the chart to fnd the things you want to discuss, then remain standing in front of it with your back to the audience. Don’t do this. Turn to face them while keeping your fnger or pointer in place.


PowerPoint enables you to create visually attractive slides that present information in almost any format you desire. If you’re computer savvy, you can even incorporate motion and sound into your presentation.

The downside to PowerPoint is, ironically, the very fact that it is so powerful and easy to use. Many speakers become overly dependent upon their PowerPoint presentations and forget to develop their speech properly. This can lead to a speech that is more of a slide show than a public speaking event. As with all other visual aids, your PowerPoint presentation exists solely to further your speech—not vice versa.

Follow these tips when using PowerPoint:

n Do not read your slides to the audience. They can read; let them. Use the words on a slide to augment the words you speak, or to give a broad overview of a point while you go into greater depth verbally.

n Use visual images in your slides effectively. Colors and clip art can enhance the words on a slide and make them more interesting to look at. But the rules for objects apply here, too: Graphic images should have some connection to the words. Don’t overdo animations or other graphic effects. They are a visual spice; use them sparingly.


Finally, printed sheets of paper can be an effective form of visual aid. In fact, they are one of the most effective forms, because they give the audience information they can literally take home with them. There is also a tactile element to a printed sheet of paper, something the audience can touch and feel, which is not available in a slide presentation.

Follow these tips when handing out printed material:

n Keep it brief. As with all visual aids, avoid the pitfall of putting too much information into your handouts. An outline works well, or bul- leted points like the lists in this book. These are just short sentences and phrases that summa- rize the information that you have expounded on in your speech.

n Keep it simple. Don’t fall prey to the tempta- tion to show off your fonts and clip art. Stick to the reason for the handout and avoid extraneous elements that will distract a reader.

n Keep it until the end. The danger of handouts is that you cannot make your audience stop looking at them. Slides are an advantage in that respect; when you’re done, you turn it off. But once you give your listeners something to read, they become readers rather than listeners. Don’t distribute handouts until you’re done speaking.


–Seeing iS belieVing–

the cardinal rules for Visual aids

No matter what you use to spice up your speech, remember these important principles:

n They’re called aids for a reason. The purpose of a visual aid is to assist you in your speech. Don’t let them become the center of attention; use them to further your points, then put them away.

n Don’t get distracted. Many speakers become absorbed in their own visual aids, staring at them intently while they speak, even speaking to the aid rather than to the audience. If you get distracted, so will your listeners. Pay atten- tion to the audience, not to the visual aids.

n It must be clearly visible to everyone. Make sure that your object is large enough for all to see and understand what you’re doing with it. Check visibility of the screen from the farthest corners of the room. If you’re talking about something that someone can’t see, that person will not be listening to your words.

n Keep it relevant! Remember the frst point in this list—it’s an aid to your presentation, not something to entertain the audience. Make sure you clearly explain how your visual aids relate to your topic.