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At BrightCarbon, we’ve done a lot of research on how audiences pay attention to presentations. We’ve found that trying to read text on a slide at the same time as listening to a speaker is really difficult.
Humans read and listen with the same area of the brain, so trying to do both at once takes a lot of mental effort. What usually happens is that the audience will tune out what the presenter is saying and just read the slides!
So, using wordy slides is actually worse for presenters than using no slides at all. And with no slides, you’re not really giving a presentation, you’re giving a speech. There’s nothing wrong with speeches, but visuals that support your spoken content can make it easier to present well and more engaging for your audience.
Looking at visuals while listening uses two different parts of the brain. This helps the audience with recall: they have processed information in multiple ways, engaging with it on a deep level, so they can remember it well.
Visuals and words working together in harmony help your message to stay with your audience even after the presentation ends. Weaving visuals into your narrative takes a bit of time and effort, but with the tips below you can start to master visual presentations!
The first stage in weaving your words and visuals together occurs when writing your presentation.
First, you need to figure out what you want to get out of the presentation. Do you want your audience to learn something new? To change their opinion about something? To understand why they should work with you? Once you have identified your objectives, you can create content based on what your audience needs to know. Always think about your audience’s perspective when creating your presentation.
As an example, if you’re creating a presentation about a product you are selling, it can be tempting to just list features of the product. The hope is that your audience will see how great your product is because of all the useful features. But a much better plan of action is to tap into the audience’s needs.
What do your audience members need that your product provides? What benefit does it bring to them? Use the needs of your audience as your starting point, and build the content from them.
The next step is to weave visuals into the narrative you have created, by creating a few simple diagrams to help your audience understand the really key points. Visuals are there to help your audience understand what you are saying, so only use an image or diagram if it helps you to make your point more clearly.
Visuals should support what you are saying, and not be designed to stand alone or be self-explanatory. If all the information that your audience needs is on the screen, that renders you – the presenter – useless. So think carefully about how you can present visual information that complements and enhances the words you are saying.
Examples of simple visuals that you can use are pie charts, bar charts, process diagrams, timelines, maps…there are loads!
To give a concrete example, let’s say you are presenting information about your company’s global operations. Rather than list all the countries where you have offices, why not create a slide that features a map of the world. Fill in all the countries with your offices in a bright color!
This helps your audience to understand where your company operates in a really simple, visual way. Then, as the presenter, you can use words to elaborate on how these global operations benefit the audience: perhaps it means they can always call on someone in their time zone!
If you feel confident about creating visuals, you could consider using more sophisticated visual language. Advanced techniques – such as creating visual metaphors, including icons to represent concepts or using colors to signify meaning – can take your presentation to a whole new level. If you’re not sure about using these higher-level visualization techniques, it’s fine to keep it simple. But if you do want to learn more, then check out these tutorials for some expert advice on the basics and on more advanced techniques.
A final tip for creating your visuals is to include some animation. Once you’ve figured out the visuals that complement what you’re saying, you can make even more impact by animating them.
For example, say you’re talking about how your sales have grown over the last 3 years. You might just choose to use a static bar chart of your sales figures to make your point. But animating these in, and finishing on the highest bar, takes your audience on a journey. They can see the progression happening before their eyes, so they will definitely understand the message that you’re trying to make.
For more tips on animating, check out this guide to animation in Visme.
Once you’ve put all this effort into selecting and creating your visuals, make sure you practice enough to give a seamless presentation. Running through the slides while speaking helps you to get used to when different images are on the screen and align your talking points with them.
Practice helps you to know when to click through to the next visual, and enables you to time your visuals with key words or gestures. Take the sales growth example, above: it is important to time the animation of the bar chart with a statement about your company’s great results.
On top of this, as a presenter you can use your body to make your point even clearer. Use your hand to gesture in the direction of the animation (so if the bars animate in from left to right, your hand follows). Well-timed gestures have a strong visual impact, and help the audience to bring together what they are hearing with what they are seeing.
A final reminder: visuals should complement, not replace, what you’re saying. Keep it simple with visual content, and use animation to make a bigger impact. Practice honestly does make perfect! Follow these tips and your audience’s brains will surely thank you.
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