A picture is indeed worth a thousand words. But it must be a good one.
We are a visual society; if you want your words to be remembered, give your audience something it can see. You have a complex idea to get across: Is there some way to display it visually? People remember 50 percent more of what they see and hear than of what they only hear. It's no wonder that visual aids are integral to the majority of speeches and presentations. Visual aids are everywhere today, and this chapter will give you lots of ideas about how to use them—and how not to.
A visual aid is any sort of prop you use to support your speech. Charts, graphs, slides, photographs, handouts, and demonstration models are all visual aids. But always remember—you are your own best visual aid. The way you look, walk, use arm motions, and show expression (in other words, your body language) is a key part of your talk.
Visual aids are especially helpful to novice or nervous speakers, who may not have the confidence that their own movements and animation will carry the show. Aids also help diffuse any nervous energy by giving you something physical to do. But as with any aspect of your speech, practice is vital. Visual aids that weren't rehearsed will show the lack of preparation, and will accentuate a speaker's lack of experience. If practiced thoroughly, visual aids greatly enhance your professionalism. In fact, I advise my clients and students to use visual aids in all of their presentations.
However, visual aids do have their dark side: As any speaker who has had to come up with some will tell you, they take up a great deal of time and thought; they can take attention away from what you are saying; they are costly; and if anything goes wrong, they can be a catastrophe.
So why use visual aids at all? We use them because a picture really is worth a thousand words. They portray—vividly and instantly—things that would take volumes to explain verbally. They save time, create interest, add variety, and help your audience remember your main points.