Using Visual Support

Three Key Factors:
the Speaker, the Audience, the Situation

These factors should guide all of the decisions the speaker makes regarding the content, design and style of visual elements of the presentation.

  1. The speaker: his or her goals, skills, responsibilities, interests, ethics, etc.
  2. The audience: its members' self-interest, roles, knowledge, priorities, etc.
  3. The situation: the task, occasion, physical & social environment, etc.

When to Use Visual Support

  • Are visual aids required? Are they customary or expected?
  • Will visuals help achieve the goals of the presentation?
  • Will visuals enhance audience interest, understanding or retention?

Basic Issues

What elements of content will be enhanced by visual display?
  • Structural elements (previews and summaries)
  • Conceptual elements (arguments, issues, or procedures and their support: explanations, statistics, definitions, testimony, comparisons, examples)
What type of visual support is most suitable for those content elements?
  • Object, artifact, model
  • Outline, diagram, chart, table, graph, map
  • Images, video clips
Considering audience and situation, what media are most appropriate for the types of visual support to be used?
  • Poster, flip chart, chalkboard, handouts?
  • Overhead projector, slide projector?
  • PowerPoint or similar computer software?

Best practices

  • Select media that are appropriate for the size, layout, seating and technological capabilities of the space.
  • Select media that are appropriate for the nature of the situation (e.g., formality, speaker-audience relationship, institutional culture).
  • Display visuals only when they are relevant; don't let them become distractions. Keep this principle in mind when planning the use of handouts.
  • Integrate visual support with what is being said. With some types of visuals — such as film clips and complex data graphics — it is helpful to tell your audience what they're going to see before you show them.
  • Make visuals meaningful for listeners: point out what is important; explain the meaning of columns and rows in tables, x and y axes of graphs, units of measurement, pictorial symbols, etc.
  • Talk to the audience, not to visuals.

Contact Information

Oral Communication Center

Kirner-Johnson 222
198 College Hill Road
Clinton, NY 13323
315-859-4401 oralcomm@hamilton.edu
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