Chapter 11 Presentation Skills

11.3 Presentation Aids

Presentations can be enhanced by the effective use of visual aids. These include handouts,  drawings on the whiteboard, PowerPoint slides, memes, short video clips, and many other types of props. Once you have chosen a topic, consider how you are going to show your audience what you are talking about. Visuals can provide a reference, illustration, or image to help the audience to understand and remember your point.

Visual aids accomplish several goals:

  • Make your speech more interesting
  • Enhance your credibility as a speaker
  • Guide transitions, helping the audience stay on track
  • Communicate complex information in a short time
  • Reinforce your message
  • Encourage retention

Emphasis, Support, and Clarity

The purpose for each visual aid should be clear and speak for itself. If you can’t quickly link the purpose of a visual aid to the verbal message, consider whether it should be used. Visual aids can be distracting or confusing if they are not clearly connected to what you are saying.

Perhaps you want to highlight a trend between two related issues, such as socioeconomic status and educational attainment. You might show a line graph that compares the two, showing that as socioeconomic status rises, educational attainment also rises. People learn in different ways. Some of us learn best using visual stimuli; others learn by taking notes or by using tactile objects. So, by using visuals to support your presentation and, if possible, tactile aids or demos, you can help a more significant proportion of the audience learn about your topic.

Clarity is key in the use of visual aids. Limit the number of words on your slides. Some people even state their rule of thumb is no more than 10 words per slide, with a font large enough to be read at the back of the room or auditorium. Generally you should include no more than five to seven lines of text per slide. People often make the mistake of trying to cram too much information on a slide, which causes the audience to zone out. Test that your slides are readable in the environment you will be using.

Methods and Materials

Slide Decks

The most common visual aid used in presentations, slide decks, may be developed using software such as PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi, or Google Slides. These tools allow you to show text, images, and charts and even to play audio or video files. They are an excellent enhancement to your presentation, but they do sometimes encounter a glitch. Computers sometimes fail to work as planned, so make sure you have a whiteboard or handout as a backup in case of any technical issues. Minimize the risk by testing out equipment ahead of time.

Also, remember that these are an aid to your central, verbal message. Resist the urge to read directly from them with your back to the audience, or to pack slides full of text in lieu of speaking all of the information you want to get across.

Flip Charts, Whiteboards, and Large Prints

Flip charts and whiteboards are a good choice when you don’t have access to a computer and projector. Alternatively, you can print some visual aids like charts and graphs in large sizes and show them during your presentation. If you plan to get a lot of audience input and want to write or draw things out, then a whiteboard is an ideal choice. But make sure your writing is large enough to be seen at the back of the room and that it is easy to read.


If it will be helpful for your audience to refer to the information you’re sharing at a later date, they’ll appreciate it if you leave them with a handout. Decide whether it is better to give handouts to the audience at the beginning or end of your speech. If your handout is comprehensive and they have detailed notes in front of them, they can be distracted by reading and tune you out, so it’s better to wait until the end to distribute them. Let the audience know at the beginning of the speech that you’ll provide it at the end. This will relieve them from having to capture all your content by taking notes, and keep their attention focused on you while you speak. If your handouts are the presentation slides with just the main points, it may be better to hand them out at the beginning so that your audience can use them to add in additional points.

Demonstrations and Tactile Aids

Visual aids capture interest and demonstrate concepts.

If your presentation is about how to do something, for example, how to cook a particular dish or how to use a tool, you will want to show the audience a demonstration. Sometimes it is helpful to pass around a tactile aid, for example, a model. These can be very helpful if you want your audience to learn by doing. Make sure to pass items around during pauses in your presentation so that you don’t lose the audience’s attention. If audience members need to move around to use a tactile aid, make sure the location has enough space to make this possible.

Using Visual Aids

Designing Slide Decks

Using PowerPoint or a similar program, you’ll be able to import, or cut and paste, words from text files, images, or video clips to represent your ideas. You can even incorporate web links.

At first, you might be overwhelmed by the possibilities, and you might be tempted to use all the bells, whistles, and sounds, not to mention the flying and animated graphics. If used wisely, a simple transition can be effective, but if used indiscriminately, it can annoy the audience to the point where they cringe in anticipation of, e.g. the sound effect at the start of each slide.

Stick to one main idea per slide. The presentation is for the audience’s benefit, not yours. Pictures and images can be understood more quickly and easily than text, so you can use this to your advantage as you present.

If you develop a slide deck for your presentation, test these out in the location beforehand, not just on your own computer screen, as different computers and software versions can make your slides look different than you expected. Allow time for revision based on what you learn.

Your visual aids should meet the following criteria:

  • Big. Make it legible for everyone, even the back row.
  • Clear. The audience should “get it” the first time they see it.
  • Simple. Simplify concepts rather than complicating them.
  • Consistent. Use the same visual style throughout.


Another consideration that you’ll need to make when designing your slide decks is font. As previously mentioned, think about the people at the back of the room when choosing the size of your text, to make sure it can be read by everyone.

A common mistake that presenters make is to use decorative fonts, or to incorporate many different fonts in their slides. This not only creates a mixed message for the audience but also makes your message difficult to read. Choose legible, common fonts that do not have thin elements that may be difficult to see.


When considering your choice of colours to use, legibility must be your priority. Contrast can help the audience read your key terms more easily. Make sure the background colour and the images you plan to use complement each other. Repeat colours, from your graphics to your text, to help unify each slide. To reduce visual noise, try not to use more than two or three colours.

Blue-green colour blindness, and red-green colour blindness are fairly common, so avoid using these colour combinations if it is important for the audience to differentiate between them. If you are using a pie chart, for example, avoid putting a blue segment next to a green one. Use labelling, so that even if someone is colour blind, they will be able to tell the relative sizes of the pie segments and what they signify.

Helpful Hints

Visual aids can be a powerful tool when used effectively but can run the risk of dominating your presentation. Consider your audience and how the portrayal of images, text, graphic, animated sequences, or sound files will contribute or detract from your presentation. Here are some hints to keep in mind as you prepare yours.

  • Keep it simple.
  • Use one idea per slide.
  • Avoid clutter.
  • Use large, bold fonts that can be read from at least 20 feet away.
  • Use colours that work well together.
  • Avoid using clip art. It can look hokey.
  • Proofread each slide with care.
  • Test in the presentation room beforehand.
  • If you are using a computer and/or projector for your visual aids, test it beforehand. Have a hard copy of your presentation in case the computer has technical difficulties.
  • Mark the floor with tape beforehand to mark the best spot to have the projector once you’ve tested it.


Using visual aids takes time and practice. The more you practise before your speech, the more comfortable you will be with your visual aids and the role they serve. Know your material well enough that you refer to your visual aids, not rely on them.

Key Takeaways

  • Visual aids include handouts, whiteboard drawings, slide decks, video clips, and more.
  • Visual aids should provide emphasis, clarity, and support to your presentation strategy.
  • Popular slide decks include PowerPoint, Prezi, and Google Slides.
  • Avoid using more than two or three colours to keep visual “noise” low.
  •  Slide decks should be (1) big (type font); (2) clear; (3) simple and consistent.

Exercise: Check Your Understanding – Presentation Aids

  1. Which of the following presentations would be more effective with the use of a physical or animate object?
    1. A slide presentation on a new employment policy
    2. A slide presentation on the different features of a mountain bike
    3. A personal finance workshop on real estate investing tips
    4. A lecture on the psychological effects of pharmaceutical drugs
  2. All of the following should be practiced for designing an effective slide presentation, except:
    1. Limiting text to one or two fonts
    2. Bolding, italicizing, and capitalizing important information
    3. Presenting no more than five to seven lines of text per slide
    4. Using a font colour that blends in well with the background
  3. If a presenter is using slides in a well-lit room, which of the following colour schemes should be used on the slides to maximize legibility?
    1. A dark background with light text and visuals
    2. A dark background with dark text and visuals
    3. A light background with dark text and visuals
    4. A light background with light text and visuals

Text Attributions

This chapter is an adaptation of the following chapter:

  • Presenting in a Professional Context” in Professional Communication OER by Olds College OER Development Team. Adapted by Mary Shier. CC BY. (The Olds College chapter itself is a remix that incorporates content for multiple sources. For a full list, refer to the Olds College chapter.)

Media Attributions


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Student Success Copyright © 2020 by Mary Shier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book