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October 2002 - Why Use Visuals

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October 2002

Why Use Visuals

Verbal support is certainly at the heart of any good talk, but visual materials can also offer support. Often, visual aids work hand in hand with verbal support to dramatize, amplify, or clarify the points you are trying to get across to your audience. At other times they function simply as an aid by listing points or sub points you wish to cover. At still other times visuals may function as stand alone support. When used well, visuals effectively assist the speaker, communicate information, and help the audience in at least four ways.

  1. Gain Attention. People look at visuals; it’s tough not to do so. We are a highly visual society. The next time you listen to a speech that uses visuals, notice where you look. It’s automatic. Unless you are highly unusual, you will look at the visuals. Therefore, effective visuals can be a real asset in grabbing audience attention and directing it toward points the speaker wants to make.

  2. Focus thought. Either as an aid or as support for a point, visuals guide the audience’s thinking. Visual support functions in the same way as verbal support by holding the listeners’ attention and helping them understand, remember, and accept what is said. Visual aids clarify or explain what the speaker is saying. As aids or support, effective visuals focus audience thought.

  3. Illustrate a sequence. A visual that lists main points of a speech shows listeners the order of their presentation. A visual showing the steps of a process helps listeners understand their order. If I were speaking to you about why visuals are effective, I might list the four points on a slide or chart—gain attention, focus thought, illustrate a sequence, and enhance remembering. The slide or chart would visually illustrate my order or sequence for you my listener.

  4. Enhance remembering. People remember more of what they see than what they hear. Researchers tell us people remember 10 percent of what they read (probably because so much of what we read is so dull), 20 percent of what they hear, 30 percent of what they see, and 50% of what they both hear and see. This is reason enough to use visuals when giving a presentation.

Certainly visuals do not take the place of sound content. And they shouldn't be used in all presentations, but when used at the right time, they can be very helpful. The lines from the old poem “I’d Rather See a Sermon (than hear one any day) says it well, “The eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear.”

John Kline
Montgomery, Alabama

October 2002 - Why Use Visuals
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