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Research Fundamentals: Visual Aids

Why Use a Visual Aid

The right visual aid can provide impact and clarity.

A visual aid...

  • Enhances understanding : 80% of information comes from what we see
  • Enhances memory : You remember 10% of what you read, 20% of what you hear, 30% of what you see, 50% of what you simultaneously see and hear
  • Helps listeners organize ideas
  • Adds clarity and helps audience grasp main ideas; reinforces concepts
  • Helps gain and maintain attention
  • Grabs attention and keeps interest more than words alone
  • Helps illustrate a sequence of events or procedures
  • Helps audience understand and visualize a process


Choosing the Right Visual Aid

What is the right medium?

  • Consider your objective
  • Take into account your own skill and experience
  • Consider audience size and make up
  • Consider the room where you will present -- size, equipment available, shades for windows, lighting, etc.


Designing & Preparing the Visual Aid

Make sure your visual aid has the impact you intend.


  • Make it easy/large enough for the entire audience to see
  • Portable enough for you to move it around/carry it


  • Resist the temptation to over-complicate it
  • Words should be limited to key words and phrases, not sentences
  • 6-7 lines of text with no more than 6-7 words in each line
  • Omit non-essential details
  • Make sure it is not too cluttered or busy
  • Don’t have so many visuals that they overtake or substitute for your presentation


  • Check for neatness
  • Check for misspellings
  • Avoid mixing multiple fonts
  • Show restraint in adding colors to text and backgrounds
  • Use space wisely— consider the layout and white space


Incorporating a Visual Aid into a Presentation

Rehearse with your visual aids so you feel at ease with them and ensure that your timing is accurate.

Timing -- Coordinate the display of the visual aid to coincide with your presentation of the information contained in them

  • Have it ready to go but not in full view until needed

  • Remove the visual aid if it is not needed for the next point

Placement: Plan where will it go and where you will stand

  • Display the visual where it can be seen by all

  • Be sure you are not blocking the view of audience members

  • Stay out of the light of the projector

  • Block out lines of text if necessary and reveal as needed

Explanation/Interpretation: Tell your audience the point you are trying to make

  • Specify the subject (“this is a diagram of the human eye” “this is a graph of the growth of the US population from 1980-2007”)

  • Orient the audience to the general layout

  • For graphs -- what do the horizontal and vertical axis represent and what conclusion is being drawn

  • For tables and charts -- what are the headings for the columns and what conclusion is being drawn

  • For objects, models, pictures -- describe in more detail

Eye Contact: Look at your audience, not the visual

  • Refer to the computer display rather than the projection screen

  • Face the audience; don’t turn your head or back to them

  • Direct the audience's eyes to specific components as they are described

  • Don’t leave audience searching


Best Practices

No matter what you choose, follow these pieces of advice when using a visual aid.

  • Test electronic equipment before you begin.
  • Have a back-up plan just in case.
  • Don't rely on volunteers or live animals as your visual aid.
  •  Avoid passing objects/distributing handouts during the presentation.
  • When playing a clip from a film, decide whether or not you need the voice or any background music; adjust the volume accordingly, rather than trying to talk over the audio.
  • The visual aid should not be a last minute addition to your presentation. Put consideration into the selection.
  • Remember: You are a visual as well. Dress appropriately and present yourself to enhance your presentation rather than distract from it.
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  • Last Updated: Jun 28, 2020 10:20 PM
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