How to Use Visual Aids During a Speech

Man writing on white board

Well-placed visual aids can make your time on the podium a lot more interesting for any audience. Not only do visual aids capture the audience's attention, those charts, graphs or photos can also help viewers actually remember the information better. Start by determining the most important pieces of information you want the audience to retain, then look for ways to present that information visually.

Types of Visual Aids

What you decide to use for a visual aid may depend on the information you're presenting. When you're introducing a single important statistic, a powerful photo of a person affected by that statistic might work well. If you're discussing more complex statistics, a pie, bar or line graph might be appropriate. Maps with accompanying photos work well for discussions of places, or use drawings or sketches to illustrate concepts. All of these may be added to an electronic slideshow presentation, but don't overlook whiteboards, posters or real, touchable visual aids, or "artifacts." For a medical speech, for example, ask someone to serve as an anatomical model, or bring in bone or soil samples for a speech about archaeology.

Grab the Viewer's Attention

Right off the bat, start with a visual aid that grabs the attention of attendees. Even if your speech involves a difficult or otherwise serious topic, your audience likely wants to be amused or entertained. Look for a funny cartoon, a quote that applies to the topic or a photo that offers a meaningful look into what you'll be discussing. Don't wait to introduce that staggering statistic about child poverty or about the impact of a certain business practice; by introducing it now, you can heighten the audience's eagerness to hear the rest.

Underline Key Points

After the introduction, use visual aids to highlight key points or crucial details. Introduce a visual aid to reinforce something you've said, when there's an idea that might be hard for the audience to understand through the spoken word, or during a potentially dull section of the speech when the audience might need a pick-me-up. Digital presentation software allows you to add sound effects for even greater impact. If you're talking about something that went wrong with a project, for example, add in a sound effect that sounds like "boo" or a toilet flushing, for example. Print out your notes and circle the information that's most important or that you really want the audience to remember. Those are ideal concepts for visual aids -- though you don't want to use so many that their effectiveness becomes diluted.

Practice Your Delivery

In your speech notes, make a note of when you need to switch slides or when you should introduce a certain visual aid. Then practice the speech using the visual aids. In terms of timing, introduce a visual aid, then talk about the information presented in it, suggests the University of Pittsburgh, so that the audience has a little more time to digest the information. If possible, practice the speech in the actual room where you'll be giving it, so you can troubleshoot any potential problems with the computers or other audio-visual equipment. This ensures that you know how to work the equipment, advance the digital slides and cue sound effects at the right time.