Oral Communication

Designing your Visual Aids

Why use Visual Aids?

Preparation for your presentation should involve design of any visual aids which help your audience to understand what you are saying. Images and and diagrams can convey messages and information which, if spoken, would take longer to explain and be harder to digest. However, don't assume that you can flash up a diagram and the audience will immediately understand what it means. They need time and clear explanations to make sense of your material. Visual stimuli combined with your oral delivery also make the presentation more memorable. They are also a good way of maintaining your audience's interest and attention. Make sure they support and complement what you are saying, not directly repeat, contradict or distract from your speech.

What is a Visual Aid?

The main types of visual aids are whiteboard, flip chart, overhead projector (OHP), PowerPoint (or other presentation software), video, props, handouts, yourselves demonstrating an action or in a role play. Click here for ideas on incorporating role play.

Which types of visual aid might you use in your next presentation? For example, consider whether PowerPoint is the best way to show a detailed diagram or would a handout be better? What might you use a flip chart for?

What makes an Effective PowerPoint Presentation?

You will probably have your own ideas about this, so think about how you feel about PowerPoint as a member of the audience and list good and poor techniques.

This example of a PowerPoint presentation highlights common pitfalls and techniques for making the most of PowerPoint including aspects using as:

  • PowerPoint as a script
  • Designing accessible visual aids
  • Effective diagrams and graphs
  • Referencing

You might also find guidance on Getting Started with PowerPoint useful.

Using your Visual Aids:

Here are a few suggestions for making most effective use of your carefully designed visual aids:

  • Be careful not to stand in front and obscure the view of your audience.
  • Avoid reading from the large projector screen as this means you turn your back to the audience obscuring eye contact and reducing projection of your voice. If you need to read directly from the text look at the PC or laptop screen.
  • Try making brief notes on index cards, including any details like dates, statistics or names that you need to get right. No-one will expect you to speak without an aide memoir.
  • Be sure to interact with the information on your visual aids by pointing to specific points or part of diagrams etc. This helps the audience to make links between your speech and detail on the visual aids.
  • Think about what you want the audience do with any handouts. If they need them during the session hand them out when necessary. If they are for future reference consider handing them out at the end to avoid them causing distraction. Advise the audience of what you plan to do.

Contingency Plans:

Whenever you use technology in a presentation you run the risk of technical problems. You can reduce the risk of this impacting on your presentation by:

  • Making sure you have your PowerPoint presentation saved in a few formats (memory stick, CD, e-mailed to an easily accessible e-mail account).
  • Prepare OHP transparencies and/or handouts in case technical issues mean that you can't use the computer and/or projector.
  • If you want to show a website, you could use screen captures rather than risking going online.
  • Make sure all the hardware and software you need will be available, e.g. speakers, access to internet, multimedia software, spare bulb, if you're using an OHP.
  • Practise with any multimedia, ideally in the venue you will be presenting in.
  • Be aware that PowerPoint presentations created on an Apple Mac operating system may not be compatible with the PC/laptop that you are required to present on. You may need to check this compatibility.

Watch and Learn

The video clips on the right hand side of the screen illustrate several of the points made above and the discussion points aim to support you in evaluating these examples and your own practice.

Follow the reading list and useful websites links for further suggestions.


Brunel University (West London)

Explaining What your Visual Aid Shows and Using Props

Illustrating your Ideas with Props and Diagrams

Explaining your Visual Aid to the Audience

Using your Body as a Visual Aid