Toastmasters - How to Make Better Visual Aids

Make Better Powerpoints with These Tips


Visual aids - like Powerpoint Presentations, Prezi, and Keynote - are among the most powerful way to deliver a message in your public speaking. Presentations can be greatly improved by effectively using them. But too many Powerpoint presentations are a chore to watch. Common mistakes - like Death By Powerpoint (too much text and information on your slides) - along with other smaller problems, make your speech a drag. If you learn how to make better Powerpoints, and how to use other visual tools more effectively, it can make a big impact on your audience. 

Toastmasters is one of the best ways to learn public speaking. Among other things, such as body language, speech structure, and vocal variety - Toastmasters is also a great way to learn how to use visual aids effectively. Project 8 in the Toastmasters Competent Communication manual is called Get Familiar With Visual Aids, and with it you can learn how to use Powerpoint and other tools more effectively. Making great visual aids is one of my favorite parts of public speaking, so I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learned. These tips can applied to Toastmasters as well as any other kind of presentation.

Visual aids should support your speech, not be the speech

One of the biggest mistakes that first time public speakers make - especially in Toastmasters - is to put too much emphasis on their visual aids, and not other aspects of their presentations. They tend to crowd their slides with information and text, and read from their presentation instead of a script they memorized.

This comes across as awkward and stilted.  Use visual aids to support your speech instead of relying on them too much. Avoid reading from your presentations or using them as a way to remember your speech - memorizing speech scripts is one of the first things you should practice when it comes to learning public speaking with Toastmasters. A variety of simple, easy to understand points, and images that provide good information and emotional impact will take you further in your public speaking skills.


On That Note, Learn Other Aspects of Public Speaking First

While visual aids can be a useful tool, it’s important to learn other aspects of presentations first. One thing that’s common to see in Toastmasters is an over reliance on Powerpoint, even as the speaker is first starting out.  This distracts you from a lot of the more essential parts of speaking that must be mastered first - such as body language, vocal tone, and speech organization. Learn those first, and you’ll be able to have a powerful stage presence with our without visual aids.

Keep it Simple

As said above, you want to avoid having walls of text in your slide. Each slide should have, at most, one or two essential points that you want to cover in your speech. If you use charts or other organizational tools, make sure they’re easy to understand at first glance - your Toastmasters audience shouldn’t have to take a second to think about what you’re trying to say. That goes with any aspect of your presentation, really.


Make it Visual

Images can have an emotional impact for your audience. They can also be a better way to convey information than simple text. Pictures are great for supporting your points and reaching out to your Toastmasters audience. For example, if you give a speech about the dangers of pollution, showing pictures of smog in major cities like Beijing or New York will get your point across better than any statistics ever will. In addition, getting a basic grasp on graphic design in regards to Powerpoint will be a great help. One of the best books on this subject is Presentation Zen, which teaches some basic graphic design principles and how to use visuals in your presentations for maximum effect. Presentation Zen will change the way you approach making visual aids in a big way.

Present for the Back

Another common newbie mistake is to make text and images too small. People shouldn’t have to squint to understand you. As a general rule, you should make sure your text and images are big enough for people in the back to see. You also might want to keep in mind the venue you’re presenting in. I used to go to a Toastmasters group in a coffee shop, and because of the room layout and the presentation screen we used, it was often hard for anyone to see the visual aids clearly.  Big, simple, easy to read text will help make everyone feel involved.


Be mindful of your body language

Learning effective body language is hard enough without worrying about visual aids. However, using Powerpoint and other tools often adds a few new challenges into the mix. For one, it’s easy to fall in the habit of looking at your Powerpoint presentation instead of the audience. Make sure you don’t look at the screen too much when you’re giving your speech. Also using a projection screen obviously restricts your body movement a lot. Normally using movement is a great way to make a point with your body gestures, but visual aids limit this ability. Be sure that you don’t stand too still when giving a presentation requiring Powerpoint, and to make it up with other gestures - such as effective hand communication and eye contact.

While using aids to improve your speech has a lot of benefits, there are a lot of potential downfalls as well. Putting your audience to sleep with too much text, hard to read Powerpoint slides, and still body language is all too common. Using Toastmaster’s "Get Comfortable With Visual Aids" project and the tips above, you can overcome these problems with ease.