Powerful Presentations Tip #5: Valuable Visuals Offer More than Meets the Eye

Learning can be enhanced through the effective use of visuals, and visuals involve more than just handouts and slides (they will be covered in detail in the next post). Let’s consider five other visual elements available for your use: (1) you, (2) props, (3) video, (4) wall posters, and (5) flipcharts.

You are going to be the focus of participants’ attention and that makes you one of the most powerful visuals available. If you’re doing a session on “What Current Trends Tell Us About the Future” and you come out wearing a Sherlock Holmes hat, it sets up what could be a powerful opening. Talking about the five hats CEOs wear? You guessed it: have those hats available for reference. Any costuming can quickly deteriorate into a groanable offense with the wrong crowd, so be judicious with your choices.

In addition to considering how what you wear might affect the learning experience, you also need to consider your positioning. Standing behind a podium can be perceived as more professorial or lecturing. Standing freely on the stage can seem more conversational, but for some will appear uncomfortable. In smaller rooms when you aren’t on a riser, moving toward or through the audience can be used to shift their attention, to connect more with individuals. Use your position in the room and the shifts you make to manage participants’ attention.

Costumes essentially are a collection of props, another visual option to consider. When your dental hygienist talks to you about better brushing technique, it is abstract until she takes out an oversized set of teeth an shows you exactly what she means with a toothbrush. When I talk about organizational culture, I often use the expandable Hoberman Sphere as a visual illustrating how an organization’s core values can remain intact as others interpret them and bring them to life in their actions. One or two carefully used props often can be among the most beneficial ways content is brought to life, particularly if they are metaphors for your talk's overall theme or one of its major assertions/ideas. Make them a participant giveaway/takeaway and it will serve as a powerful visual reminder of your content long after the session is over.

Video clips are becoming a more frequent element of talks. Brief clips from cellphones or inexpensive cameras like the Flip Video Camcorder (between $100-$200) can easily be incorporated into a talk. Doing a talk on customer service? Show clips of good and bad example and then talk about the differences. Do Jay Leno-style "person on the street" interviews to quickly illustrate varied perspectives on a key question or issue. Some television commercials can be used to illustrate ideas or reinforce points you’re making. And low-royalty video clips are popping up online much in the way stock photography is sold.

Another easily used, but rarely considered, visual resource is the meeting room wall space. For sessions with fewer than 150 participants, I often will place oversized posters containing a key quote or question on the walls around the room and then use them as meeting places for small group discussions. Or think of them like paintings in an art gallery and have participants roam freely, reviewing the various works, and then returning to their seats for a facilitated large group discussion. Wall-size graphic templates for a variety of group work can be purchased or you can create your own and have them enlarged to poster proportions. Any posting is less likely to raise the ire of the Meeting Room Police if you use artist’s tape to hang your sheets.

And finally, don’t forget our old friend, the flipchart. Just as musicians often go acoustic for a raw, more authentic sound in their performance, using a flipchart can create a more handcrafted, less slick and pre-packaged feel to your session. A variety of low-cost resources are available to help you create simple drawings that chart your content in more meaningful ways. VizThink is a powerful community of visual practitioners offering affordable webinars and other learning opportunities, and The Grove Consultants International offers Pocket Pics, a great picture dictionary offering possible hand-drawn images for more than 100 business concepts.

With all of these options available to enhance the visual appeal of your presentation, you may find handouts or slides aren’t necessary for a particular session. But if they are, my next post will offer you some insights on how to strengthen their contribution to the learning experience.