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What about Support Materials?

Use visuals whenever you can to manage the attention and understanding of the audience. People remember visuals. Visualize the problem, visualize the results, visualize your vision and goals of the meeting. Help people “see” what they are working on, and they are much more likely to remember it.

A Few Caveats about Handouts

Now that I’ve talked about the importance of visualization, let me issue a caution. Don’t give the group a copy of your PowerPoint slides or a written report while trying to present an idea from the front of the room.

Why not? Because people are human, and humans who can read can’t help but dig in immediately. If you put letters in front of them, they start sounding them out. Think about when you drive down a highway. You can’t help but read the billboards. The same is true in a meeting. If you distribute written material, you will be up front talking about whatever you think is important, and they will be flipping through the pages of what you gave them and not paying the least bit of attention to you.

Now that is fine if you don’t mind playing second fiddle to a handout. But the presenter should always be the star of the show. Only in an art gallery should the visuals get center stage. Never let it happen to you.

A Handout Rule That Works

So here is the handout rule that works best. If you want your listeners to read something, give it to them well before the meeting, or give them time to read it without you or anyone else talking. You may also give them a copy of material (such as your PowerPoint slides) as they are leaving to complement whatever notes they took.

In professional situations the program chairman often asks for copies of the visuals from each speaker so that these materials can be duplicated and put into a folder for attendees. The idea is that the perfect way to take notes is to scribble them on the relevant handout page. Sometimes we lose that battle and have to supply the visuals. So what to do? Make sure your visuals are simple. Make sure they are pertinent, arresting, and interesting. Make sure they are eye-catching. Make sure they dramatize a point you want to make.

But make doubly sure the visuals don’t tell the whole story. You tell the story. You are the creator of the news, not the visuals. The story must come from you, not the visuals. You are the source of life, of creativity, of ideas, of intelligence, of all that is interesting, not the visuals. The visuals can’t hold a candle to you. The visuals should aid you—that is why they are called visual aids. They should help you make a thought clearer, more dramatic. But it’s your thought, not the visuals, that should hold your audience’s attention. Don’t ever create visuals that contain the whole talk. You would be doing a disservice to the audience as well as to yourself.

Now—if you can create that kind of visual—one that doesn’t compete with you—you can distribute it to the audience.


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