How to Create Powerful Visuals 1

Communication is supposed to be about the transfer of emotion. Communication is supposed to be about getting others to adopt your point of view, to help them understand why you’re excited (or sad, or optimistic or whatever else you are.) Communication is not supposed to be about Death by PowerPoint!

With this blog series my aim is to help you learn how to create powerful visual aids that will be enhance, not hinder, your presentation. Remember that humans get inspired by fellow humans, not slides. If all you want to do is create a PowerPoint file of facts and figures, then cancel the presentation and send a document to your audience instead.

Visual Aids

Let’s start with a definition of the word aid.

An aid is a support for achievement of something

Visual aids are exactly what it says on the tin – something you layer over a message to aid the experience. When preparing for a speech or presentation that will use visual aids, think about the slides last. Think about your main message, structure its supporting points, practice it and time it — and then start thinking about your slides.

Don’t develop slides so you can read them. Develop them to support you.

Slides should only be used to present the audience with a visual experience that enhances the speaker’s words. A big mistake people often make with visuals is to switch the entire focus of the presentation onto the slides. By letting slides dominate the presentation, presenters are often left in a situation where the audience themselves read the slides instead of listening to the presenter.

Visual Aids

Consider for a moment the scenario where you are reading a newspaper and somebody is trying to talk to you at the same time. You aren’t reading properly and internalising the information from the pages, and you aren’t listening properly and really hearing what your spouse is saying.

What can we take from this? If you create slides where the audience is forced to read them, most likely they are not going to internalise much from your presentation because they won’t really be reading and they won’t really be listening.

Driving Engagement with Slides

Below are 5 simple principles to consider when designing your next set of visual aids:

1) Be Consistent With Design

It doesn’t matter what fonts, what kind of images, or what headers you use they will always look better if you opt for a consistent look. If your first slide uses the Arial font then stick with that font throughout. If you go with a blue and red theme for your stacked bar graph every stacked bar graph should use a blue and red theme.

Colours, background images, fonts, layout and logo placement (if necessary) should all follow the same style guide. Here are some general tips for consistency:

  • Use the same ‘banner’ or title font throughout the design
  • Use the same ‘frame’ or ‘grid’ throughout the design
  • Use the same background throughout the design
  • Choose colours carefully, as colour affects mood
  • Don’t get too fancy with fonts and go for those that are easy to read

Visual Aids

Choose colours carefully, as colour affects mood

Bright colours convey energy and excitement, while darker colours may seem more conservative and serious. Think about the presentation space.

  • If the room will be dark (with lights off), choose a darker background colour, such as dark blue, black, or grey, with white or light-coloured text
  • If the room will be light (with lights on or plenty of ambient light), choose a white or light-coloured background, with black or dark-coloured text

Don’t get too fancy with fonts and go for those that are easy to read

Fonts communicate subtle messages in and of themselves, which is why you should choose fonts deliberately. Use text that is easy for your audience to read.

Save text that is fancy for large headlines in the presentation. Sans serif fonts are more readable than serif fonts when it comes to a presentation platform and larger fonts will help those seated at the back of the room to see and read what you’re presenting.

2) Use a Simple Layout

Each slide should focus on one idea or concept. This allows the audience to grasp quickly what you want to communicate. As a simple rule each slide should take three seconds or fewer to process. If it takes longer, the slide is probably too complex.

Slides should have plenty of “white space” or “negative space.” It’s a bad idea to fill empty areas on a slide with logos or other unnecessary graphics or text boxes that do not contribute to better understanding.

If you have a lot of white space in your slides you help the audience to understand what the key point is you want them to focus on at that exact moment in time. The less clutter you have on your slide, the more powerful your visual message will become.

Note: When you have to communicate complex data or large chunks of information, you should avoid putting it on slides. You can use handouts that will allow the audience to look at data closely. However don’t distribute handouts until after the presentation.

The next 3 principles for designing powerful visual aids are shown in part 2 here.