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Selecting Visual Aids

After you have completed and prioritized your topic outline, the next task is to select your visual aids. This section will review why visual aids are important, list different options, and describe how to select the best option for your presentation. A subsequent article will outline how to construct your visual aids for the presentation.

Visual aids help in the communication of ideas and concepts. This is because visual aids:

  • Rapidly transfer ideas. With only 10 minutes to make your presentation, a picture, figure, or table can communicate complex ideas more quickly than the spoken word.
  • Make presentations more interesting. Visuals make the presentation stand out and help the audience focus on what is being presented.
  • Make presentations easier to follow. Visuals make it easier for the audience to follow the outline and logic of your presentation.
  • Help keep you organized. Visuals help you as the presenter keep on task by highlighting what you need to present. This is important in a 10-minute presentation when none of your time can be wasted.
  • Increase listener retention. It is an aphorism that an audience will remember 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, and 50% of what they hear and see. Visuals help people remember.

For most research presentations, you will probably use one of the following types of visual aids: slides, electronic presentation software, overhead transparencies, or written handouts. For each option, there are important advantages and disadvantages. In order to help you with your decision, we will summarize these for you and make recommendations based upon the presentation environment and your needs. Keep in mind that when selecting a more technically sophisticated method for your visuals, such as electronic presentation software, it is advisable to include a backup, such as handouts or even slides. In general, such "mixing and matching" of solutions is a good way to both ensure recovery from any mishaps and optimize the use of visual-aid styles for particular aspects of your presentation most appropriate for the medium.