Delivering Persuasive Presentations
Handling Visuals


Dr.Meenakshi Singhal
Senior Lecturer
Department of Communications, College of Engineering
University of Petroleum & Energy Studies

Visuals have a way of overwhelming you. Instead of paying attention to the audience, you spend all your time putting on transparencies and then running to the screen and talking into it.

The main challenge you face is to stay connected to the audience while getting the full benefit of your visuals. Three simple steps will help you succeed in this: (1) check your preparation and setup, (2) keep your focus on the audience while working with visuals, and (3) avoid distractions that disrupt the connection.

Review your preparation and setup

Visuals can reinforce your major points and make complex ideas more accessible. However, when you have too many visuals, you spoil their impact. So, as you get ready, take a last look at your visuals. Are there any that would only slow you down and take you away from the audience? Then throw them out.

Also, check that the equipment is set up in the right way. Are you going to spend time at the screen, helping the audience understand sections of your visuals? If so, make sure there is space next to the projector for your transparencies, on the proper side. This will save you from constantly walking through the projector beam or having to work on the wrong side of the screen.

Keep in touch with your audience

The well-known formula for working with visuals is touch-turn-talk. This means you look at the screen to find your place and point at it ("touch"), then face the audience and make eye contact with somebody ("turn"), and only then continue to speak ("talk"). The main point to remember is this: whenever you talk into the screen, you show lack of concern for your audience. You may still come across as enthused about your subject, but the connection to the audience has been broken.

Of course, many times you don't have to point at a visual at all. If a chart has three simple bullet points, you can stay close to the audience while talking about those three points. On the other hand, if you're illustrating a process with a complex flow diagram, pointing precisely at each item as you explain it is essential.

Avoid distractions

Visuals present many opportunities for annoying distractions. Here are some areas to watch out for:

Pointer fiddling. If you are a "pointer fiddler," your best approach is to pick up the pointer only when you need it and then immediately put it down. (If you are tall, you may not need a pointer at all.) Get enthused about your message, and your hands will soon find something better to do than torturing that pointer.

Moving shadows. Moving images or shadows attract a lot of attention, and some people dislike them intensely. This means you should avoid pointing at the transparency on the projector (especially if you're shaky - the projector will magnify that tremor dramatically!). Point at the screen instead. Similarly, don't cover up parts of a transparency to reveal points one by one.

What about writing on a transparency as you speak? In every audience, we find at least one person who hates it with a passion. So think about it -- can you really afford to alienate even one of your listeners?

Demo objects or samples. Demo objects can be a great addition to a presentation, but they create major distractions that you need to minimize. For instance, many people will stop listening to you until they have seen the "thing." But will they ever see it? In many cases, the object gets stuck somewhere in the middle, leaving half the audience resentful!

First, decide whether you must really pass the object around. Can you just hold it up? For instance, relative brightness is easily demonstrated with two sheets held up side by side. Sometimes it is best to walk from table to table and show people exactly what you want them to see -- say, on a photograph.

If you do decide to pass the object around, keep track of it. Make sure everybody sees it within a reasonable time, and plan your talk in such a way that those who are waiting for the object can still follow you.

With these few precautions, your visuals will do what they are supposed to: enhance your presentation, rather than isolate or alienate you from your audience.

Dr.Meenakshi Singhal
Senior Lecturer
Department of Communications, College of Engineering
University of Petroleum & Energy Studies

Source: E-mail July 28, 2006


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