May 042012

Presentation Tools: Developing Presentations Aids – Why is this important?

Presentation Tools: Posted on May 3, 2012, Via Learning Designers Magazine, By Bruce Hilliard

Presentation Tools: WHAT’S THE POINT? This handout explains why it is so important to use presentation tools; and describes the key principles you should apply when developing and using presentation aids.

Presentation Tools: Overview – Developing Presentation Aids

Some people will tell you that presentation tools are not required, and an audience can be persuaded by speech alone. Certainly, some speakers can pull this off. People like Sir Winston Churchill were able to influence others through wonderful orations (Even now we all remember ‘we shall fight them on the beaches…’ [and some other places that I can’t remember]). However, the rest of us need an edge, to get the same effect without being world-class orators. This edge can come from the use of presentation aids. The essence of this edge is described in an old Chinese adage that states: I hear I forget, I see I remember, I do I understand. In other words, by going beyond the use of speech in your presentation you can improve the audience’s retention and understanding of the message. This assertion is borne out by research, which indicates that the use of presentation aids can:

Presentation Tools: Improve Retention
Research undertaken by Harvard University shows that retention of your message can be improved by up to 38% by using graphical representations of your points (1).

Presentation Tools: Save Time
Findings cited by David Peoples (2) indicate that a presenter using visual aids can reduce the time taken to explain complex issues by up to 40%. Noting that you are invariably short of time to get your message across, you will typically be much better off if you use presentation aids.

Presentation Tools: Improve Persuasion
A study conducted for the 3M corporation in 1986 indicated that audiences were 43% more likely to be persuaded in a presentation if visual aids were used (3).

Presentation Tools: Enhance the Audience’s Belief in the Presenter
A Wharton Business School study showed that most members of an audience perceived the presenter as being more professional, if effective visual aids were used (4).

Therefore, by using presentation aids, you can help to develop audience belief, which is an essential ingredient if you are going to persuade them with your message (See Page 23 in the book Persuasion and Influence, the Science and Art of Effective Presentation for more information).

Presentation Tools: Sway the Audience Beliefs
Research conducted by the Wharton Business School indicates that a presenter is about 67% more likely to sway an audience, if effective presentation aids are applied (5).

Presentation Tools: Help to Achieve the Presentation’s Goal
Decker Communications Inc conducted research, and found that presenters who did not use presentation aids were likely to achieve their goals only about 33% of the time. However, the likelihood of achieving the goal for their presentation increased to around 67% if they used visual aids (6).

This is more than a 100% improvement, just by using presentation aids! As illustrated by this research, the use of presentation aids can provide clear advantages. You should therefore take the time to develop effective presentation aids, because these can help you to influence and persuade the audience.

This document describes some of the key general principles related to designing and using effective presentation aids.

Presentation Tools: General Principles
You can help to ensure that you gain the benefit from your presentation aids by applying some quite straightforward principles for designing and using the aids. The following subsections describe these key principles. Presentation Aid Design Good design is generally very easy to apply, but it makes a big difference in the effectiveness of your presentation. You should aim to use the following universal design principles to optimise your aids:
Presentation Tools: Design Principle 1
Ensure that your aids are exciting and interesting. I am sure you have sat through presentations where you were suffering ‘death by view-graph’, or ‘PowerPoint® Poisoning’, because the visual aids were boring and did not help to capture and hold your attention. Don’t fall into the same trap.Presentation Aids (Pt 1)
Presentation Tools: Design Principle 2
You must ensure that your aids are accurate. This approach includes making sure that the information they portray is correct, and that the spelling of text is valid. For example, what will the audience think about you and your message if you included the following text in a presentation?

Gud Speelling iz esential

Presentation Tools: Design Principle 3
Your presentation aids must be as clear and unambiguous as possible, so they promote understanding of your message. The rule here is to implement the optimal level of complexity (which will be discussed in later newsletters). For example, don’t create slides like the one below (I am sure we’ve all seen slides like this).
As you can see from this slide, the presenter has created an aid that will not really help get their message across, because it is overly complex, contains numerous unclear acronyms and abbreviations, has too many fonts, and uses bad colour combinations.
Presentation Tools: Design Principle 4
Make sure that your text and graphics are large and clear enough for your audience to see them easily. To help you scope this requirement, Figure 0.1 provides a rough guide to the minimum height of text you will need to produce, to allow people to read it clearly at various distances  (7).
Presentation Tools: Design Principle 5
Make the presentation aids look good, because people are typically more likely to believe the message if it is presented in an aesthetically pleasing way.

Presentation Tools: Design Principle 6
Maximise the use of graphics to optimise understanding and retention, by applying the principles that will be described in later newsletters.

Presentation Tools: Design Principle 7
The presentation aids must reinforce your message, by providing redundant and related information (See Chapter 5 of Persuasion and Influence for more details). In other words, make sure that your presentation aids and your words are telling the same story at the same time.

Presentation Tools: Using Presentation Aids

Designing the right presentation aids is very important, but there is little point in creating great presentation aids if you do not use them properly. You should therefore apply the following fundamental principles to make best use of the presentation aids:

Presentation Tools: Usage Principle 1
Pre-prepared presentation aids can be more effective than building the aid on the spot (e.g. the presenter drawing on a whiteboard). Firstly, pre-prepared presentation aids tend to be neater and more legible, so your audience can understand them better. Additionally, if you have to spend a lot of time developing your aids during the presentation, it is less likely that you will achieve good eye contact with your audience (as shown by the example to the right). In real terms, this means that you may not be able to communicate as effectively, while building your aids during the presentation.

Presentation Tools: Usage Principle 2
You should apply the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid), so you can achieve the optimal complexity. Don’t overcomplicate your use of presentation aids. For example, I saw a presenter try to use a data projector, white boards, video, and other visual aids in a short presentation. It was a catastrophe, because it all became too complicated. I am not suggesting that you should stick only to one form of presentation aid, but rationalise your use of aids so they do not take control of the presentation.

Presentation Tools: Usage Principle 3
Your presentation aids should not only help your audience understand, you should also use them to provide landmarks within a verbal script (See Pages 219 and 225 in Persuasion and Influence for more details on these concepts). This approach can help you to make it look as though you are speaking off-the-cuff, which can enhance the audience’s belief in you, and markedly improve the effectiveness of the communication.

Presentation Tools: Conclusion

Although the general concepts in this document are quite simple, they encapsulate each of the more detailed elements that will be covered in later newsletters. This document therefore provides some useful principles. I hope you will find these inights helpful. Next month the newsletter will extend these principles, by providing practical advice on the optimised use of different types of presentation aid. In following newsletters, we will drill down into the practical implications of these concepts. As such, they will have ramifications not only for presenting information in any context, but also for the development of eLearning environments and Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs).

Presentation Tools: ENDNOTES
  1. Research cited in US Department of Justice, National Institute of Corrections, 2001, ‘Facilitator Guide Preparing for the Training’ Online, p. 28
  2. Peoples, D., 1992, ‘Presentations Plus’. John Wiley & Sons, New York, pp. 45-50.
  3. Research listed in Hallan, 1993, p. 43, as cited in Macnamara, J., [Accessed 2004], ‘The Modern Presenters Handbook’. Online
  4. Peoples, D., 1992, ‘Presentations Plus’. John Wiley & Sons, New York, pp. 45-50.
  5. Peoples, D., 1992, ‘Presentations Plus’. John Wiley & Sons, New York, pp. 45-50.
  6. Malouf, D., 1988, ‘How to Create and Deliver a Dynamic Presentation’. Simon & Shuster, Sydney, p. 82
  7. Developed from a variety of different sources, but one of the primary source is Lucas, R., 2000, ‘The Big Book of Flip Charts. A Comprehensive Guide for Presenters, Trainers and team Facilitators’. McGraw-Hill, New York, p. 23.

About The Author

Bruce Hilliard, BruceHilliardAuthor, View All Posts From this Author

Bruce Hilliard is Managing Director at Seahorses Management Consulting in Perth, Australia. Bruce Hilliard has over 25 years of experience in developing highly persuasive presentations for business and teaching purposes, in the public sector and private enterprise. He has also developed a presentation and communication process based on extensive research into various sciences connected with psychology and cognitive science. This highly successful process has been tested and refined through many years of practical application.


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