Using Visual Aids In Presentations: Tips On How To Prepare For A Keynote Address

Posted at 17:47pm on 27th July 2009

I began a series, recently, with a list of five practical ways to overcome a fear of speaking in public. The first item: Public speaking ideas: how they may be found and categorised, and the way in which they might be arranged to become a coherent talk, formed the basis of that post. I touched upon the concept of writing a good dialogue – using language with which your audience would be familiar, and finished with a brief look at structure.

Today, I’m going to look at the second item on the list, how to prepare a visual presentation. This can be dealt with under a further five headings:


  1. Write a draft of your talk.
  2. Highlight the key points.
  3. Find appropriate visual aids for presentations.
  4. Prepare Power Point slides.
  5. Prepare your notes page.

1. Write a draft of your talk. Think of the first draft of your talk as a creative writing project: a continuous flow of narrative. This is the way that I work, allowing my thoughts to tumble onto the page unfettered. Personally, I find this the best way to keep my creative juices running. (If you work better by beginning with headings and outlines, then do so).

Once you’ve written yourself out, begin to edit. Assemble all the information and research you’ve amassed in a logical, cohesive manner, remembering the rules for writing, which I’ve pointed out in previous posts.

2. Highlight the key points. Using a coloured highlighter, work your way through your draft from start to finish, to emphasise the essentials of your talk. These are the key points which define the message you are trying to impart. In other words, if you took away any one of these lines of reasoning then, like slackened guy ropes on a tent, the whole edifice would fall flat, and be meaningless.

Another way to think of your key points is as the raising agent in a sponge cake. All the other ingredients are necessary. But without the baking powder your sponge will be thin and inedible. These key points will form the headings, or sub-titles, of your text. Consequently it is these points that should be enhanced by the use of a visual presentation and / or props.

3. Find appropriate visual aids for presentations. The way human beings take in information varies (if you want to find out how, take a free psychometric personality profiling test here) but the fact is that however we absorb facts, we none of us retain 100% of what we have read, heard, seen, smelled, tasted or felt. In fact the percentage rate for any one method is quite low. So it greatly enhances the retention rate of your audience if you, as the speaker, utilise as many faculties as possible. In other words, it’s not all about graphics and slides (we’ll be coming to that in a moment).

When I was keynote speaker at the annual conference for Salvation Army leaders, recently, I took along an egg box to which my four-year-old grandson had attached the cardboard innards of a kitchen paper towel roll, and then painted. To him it was a lifeboat! To my audience, the *vision* of a lifeboat has a spiritual connotation.

The point I was making was that when we talk about “enlarging my vision” we need to understand and appreciate the validity of our own vision – and that of others: my vision (or that of my grandson) may not be your vision, but each has its own purpose and rationale. I bet you that’s one memory that will stay with my audience! As will the tasty fortune cookies that another speaker handed out – because she’d themed her talk on “vision” around cooking.

4. Preparing Power Point slides. Begin by choosing a themed background for your Power Point presentation, with a contrasting colour for the text. You want your audience to be able to read what you’ve written, so stick to the mantra: Simplicity is sensational; fussy is fatal! That means, also, that you don’t want too much text on each slide. Use bullets to alert your audience to the key points which form the structure of your address i.e. the sub-headings in your written notes. Simplicity is best for animation, as well. Don’t be carried away by the sheer scale and diversity of what’s on offer. Use gentle fade-ins for the majority of your text; rapid winged or dropped points for those that need real impact.

Finding appropriate images for a visual presentation is time consuming. There are many websites where you can find photographs, Flickr being one. Many contributors offer free use of the pictures displayed, but do be aware that many others are copyright, and that there are international, enforceable laws governing the use of any material which is not expressly stated as being free to use.

Alternatively, use good quality photographs that you have taken yourself. By “good quality” I mean photographs of good composition, which tell the story you want them to tell. Quality in terms of pixels is less important: if your photos are of a high enough resolution to print then they will be more than sufficient for use electronically.

When choosing graphics, do bear your audience in mind! The photograph of my eldest grandson with his twin cousins, one under each arm (used to depict a sense of integrity / reliability) would be suitable for a male or female audience; the one of a child hugging a dog and hiding his face in its fur (a symbol of comfort) moved the women in my audience, but might not have been so relevant to the men. Don’t forget the cardinal rule, also, that people’s faces, pathways, anything with movement (such as clouds), or the potential for mobility (like vehicles or animals) should always be looking / leading into the picture, not out of it.

If you know anything about designing (my daughter and I used to design and print notelets in the days when my husband had a small printing and card distribution business), you might like to consider working with your graphics to make them say what you want them to say. Take, for instance, the “potted history” slide I crafted, using text boxes inside the graphic of a plant pot to hammer home the point. That spawned a whole new train of thought. Consequently, I revised my talk to include the concepts of “insignificance” versus “prominence”; being “hidden” but “named”; and being “humble” but “inspired” – all of which sprang from that original slide.

5. Preparing your notes page. So far:

  • you’ve written a first draft of your address as if it were a creative writing project
  • you’ve outlined the essential points and created sub-headings, each of which is to be highlighted by the use of a visual presentation
  • you’ve considered non-electronic visual aids for presentations, and taken into account the need to appeal to all your audience's faculties
  • and you’ve chosen images – graphics and photographs – as memory aides, with simple, bulleted text points alongside.

The bulleted points on your slides should be identical to those in your Speaker’s Notes!

As you prepare your presentation, you’ll find that beneath each slide there is space for your notes. Now, copy and paste your entire address into this section. If your notes are too long for the allotted space, click on Duplicate Slide and use the notes section beneath that for the overflow.

Make sure that the sub-headings in your address (i.e. the key points which you will expand during the talk) are identical to the bulleted points which will appear on the slide. For reasons which I’ll illuminate in the next part of this series, it is essential that you make each of these sub-headings BOLD. Beside each change of slide, each heading, and each piece of animated text, type CLICK.

And that’s the low-down on preparing a visual presentation. Next time I’ll be looking into how to deliver your keynote address.

In the meantime, feel free to add or disagree with anything I've written. Or how about leaving a comment about your worst experience as a speaker, or as a member of an audience. And don't forget to send this on to a friend or social network.

Related blog: A Fear Of Speaking In Public: Five Practical Ways To Overcome It


Author of a number of books, one a No 4 Bestseller, Mel Menzies is also an experienced Speaker at live events, as well as on Radio and TV.

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