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Presenting Effective Presentations with Visual Aids
Construction Safety and Health
Outreach Program
U.S. Department of Labor
OSHA Office of Training and Education
May 1996


The purpose of this discussion is to provide basic, comprehensive information to assist you in developing effective presentations. The use of visual aids, coupled with good public speaking skills, work hand-in-hand to create effective presentations. Your speaking style and stage presence are personal talents that you can refine with much practice and experience. Each aspect of effective presentations, however, could not be detailed in this discussion. Instead, much emphasis is given to visual aids which are essential to all successful presentations.


There is no secret to developing an effective presentation. Establishing your objectives, planning and organizing your material, and using appropriate visual aids are the essential ingredients. The recipe for effective presentations calls for all three ingredients, and you must use them in the order in which they are presented here. By establishing your objectives first, you can prepare material that supports each objective. The use of visual aids will move you further along toward your objectives by illustrating and emphasizing your ideas more effectively than words alone. Let's begin, then, at the beginning: As you start to design your presentation, you must ask yourself, "What do I want to accomplish by making this presentation?"

Establishing the Objectives

For any successful presentation, you must know your objectives. It is these objectives that drive your presentation and move the audience to your end goals. Your end goals may be that the attendees take a particular action, adopt a new perspective, or respond to facts and information. Establishing these goals requires careful planning. The key to designing your presentation is determining these objectives. After all, they become the foundation upon which your content, organization, and visual aids are built.

Establishing the objectives for your presentation requires an analysis of your own goals, as well as your audience's needs and expectations. By considering the nature of your audience, you can more easily determine what you will present and how you will present it. An audience analysis will enable you to:
  • Select appropriate points of emphasis in your presentation
  • Develop a useful level of detail
  • Choose and prepare appropriate visual aids
  • Create a tone that is sensitive to your audience's circumstance
Your presentation will ideally form a bridge between something you have and your audience wants. Let the audience analysis influence the form of information presented so you can create this bridge.

Planning and Organizing Your Material

When you have determined the characteristics of your audience, then you are ready to plan and organize your material. The tips listed below will assist you in tailoring your approach accordingly. Keep in mind that the use of visual aids will help to produce effective one-way or two-way communication. Many factors are involved in choosing these visual aids, and the type of interaction you want to develop with the audience will influence your choice.

Planning Your Material
  • Do not wait to prepare your presentation while on you way to the training session. You cannot do your best at presenting or persuading by "winging it."
  • At a minimum, prepare an outline of goals, major issues to be discussed, and information to be presented to support main themes.
  • Limit content to your major point and no more than five key supporting points.
  • Analyze your audience. Prepare your content considering such things as whether they are likely to be friendly or unfriendly, lay or technical in their background, and whether they want only to listen or to respond and contribute.
  • Select appropriate visual aids and a presentation style that will be effective in the physical setting for your training session.
Organizing Your Material

When organizing your material, consider an "old chestnut" of public speaking - "Tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em; tell 'em; and tell 'em what you told 'em." This recommendation:
  • Recognizes the importance of reinforcement in adult learning
  • Completes the communication for the listener
  • Informs people who arrive late of what they missed
  • Recognizes the importance of organization, highlighting, and summarizing main points for the audience
  • Serves to clarify main themes for the audience at the end of the presentation
Using Visual Aids

Visual aids help your presentation make things happen. Visual aids help you reach your objectives by providing emphasis to whatever is being said. Clear pictures multiply the audience's level of understanding of the material presented, and they should be used to reinforce your message, clarify points, and create excitement.

Visual aids involve your audience and require a change from one activity to another: from hearing to seeing. When you use visual aids, their use tends to encourage gestures and movement on your part. This extra movement reinforces the control that you, the speaker, need over the presentation. The use of visual aids, then, are mutually beneficial to the audience and you.

Visual aids add impact and interest to a presentation. They enable you to appeal to more than one sense at the same time, thereby increasing the audience's understanding and retention level. With pictures, the concepts or ideas you present are no longer simply words - but words plus images. The chart below cites the effectiveness of visual aids on audience retention.

Retention of Information

People tend to eye-minded, and the impacts visual aids bring to a presentation are, indeed, significant. The studies, below, reveal interesting statistics that support these findings:
  • In many studies, experimental psychologists and educators have found that retention of information three days after a meeting or other event is six times greater when information is presented by visual and oral means than when the information is presented by the spoken word alone.
  • Studies by educational researchers suggest that approximately 83% of human learning occurs visually, and the remaining 17% through the other senses - 11% through hearing, 3.5% through smell, 1% through taste, and 1.5% through touch.
  • The studies suggest that three days after an event, people retain 10% of what they heard from an oral presentation, 35% from a visual presentation, and 65% from a visual and oral presentation.
The use of visual aids, then, is essential to all presentations. Without them, the impact of your presentation may leave the audience shortly after the audience leaves you. By preparing a presentation with visual aids that reinforce your main ideas, you will reach your audience far more effectively, and, perhaps, continue to "touch" them long after the presentation ends.


Visuals add an important dimension to a presentation, and you, the speaker, must capitalize on this dimension. It is critical that you prepare visual aids that reinforce your major points, stimulate your audience, and work well in the physical setting of your presentation.

Visual aids and audio-visuals include a wide variety of communication products, including flip charts, overhead transparencies, slides, audio-slide shows, and video tapes. Demonstrating a process or simply passing around a sample of some equipment or model are also effective way to clarify messages visually. If visual aids are poorly selected or inadequately done, they will distract from what you are saying. The tips listed below will help you in the selection and preparation of visual aids.

Tips on Preparing Visual Aids

  • Start with at least a rough outline of the goal and major points of the presentation before selecting the visual aid(s). For example, a particular scene or slides may trigger ideas for the presentation, providing the power of images. Do not proceed too far without first determining what you want to accomplish, what your audience wants to gain, and what the physical setting requires.
  • Each element of an audio-visual product - a single slide or a page of a flip chart presentation, for example, - must be simple and contain only one message. Placing more than one message on a single image confuses the audience and diminishes the potential impact of visual media. Keep visual aids BRIEF.
  • Determine the difference between what you will say and what the visual aid will show. Do not read straight from your visuals.
  • Ask the audience to read or listen, not both; visual aids should not provide reading material while you talk. Rather, use them to illustrate or highlight your points.
  • Give participants paper copies of various graphic aids used in your presentation. They will be able to write on the paper copies and have them for future reference.
  • Assess your cost constraints. An overhead transparency presentation can always be used in a formal environment if 35 mm slides are too expensive.
  • Account for production time in your planning and selection process. Slides must be developed, videotape edited - you do not want to back yourself against a wall because the visuals are not ready. You can often get production work done in 24-48 hours, but it is much more expensive than work that is done on an extended schedule.
  • Use local photographs and examples when discussing general problems and issues. While a general problem concerning welding safety, for example, may elude someone, illustrating with a system in use at the site can bring the issue home.
  • Use charts and graphs to support the presentation of numerical information.
  • Develop sketches and drawings to convey various designs and plans.
  • When preparing graphics, make sure they are not too crowded in detail. Do no over-use color. See that line detail, letters, and symbols are bold enough to be seen from the back of the room.
  • Do not use visual aids for persuasive statements, qualifying remarks, emotional appeals, or any type of rhetorical statement.
  • If you have handouts, don't let them become a distraction during the presentation. They should provide reinforcement following your address. Consider giving them out after the presentation, unless the audience will use them during the presentation or will need to review them in advance of the presentation.
  • Practice presenting the full program using graphic materials so you are familiar with their use and order. If you use audio-visual materials, practice working with them and the equipment to get the timing down right.
  • Seek feedback on the clarity of your visuals and do so early enough to allow yourself time to make needed adjustments.
What to Use, How to Choose

The question of what to use and how to choose is an excellent one. The next several pages will help you answer this question by identifying the advantages and limitations of each type of visual, as well as the development techniques required in preparing each. By looking at these pros and cons, you can more easily decide what will work best for your presentation.

Flip Charts

Flip Charts Flip charts are quick, inexpensive visual aids
for briefing small groups. The charts, felt-tip markers and graphic materials are readily available, and with a modest ability at lettering, the presenters can compose the desired visual aid in-house.

Flip Charts:
  • Help the speaker proceed through the material
  • Convey information
  • Provide the audience with something to look at in addition to the speaker
  • Can be prepared prior to, as well as during, the presentation
  • Demonstrate that the speaker has given thought to his or her remarks
  • Can be used to record audience questions and comments
  • Can be converted to slides
  • May require the use of graphics talent
  • Are not suitable for use in a large audience setting
  • May be difficult to transport
When Developing Flip Charts:
  • Each sheet of paper should contain one idea, sketch, or theme.
  • Words, charts, diagrams, and other symbols must be penned in a large enough size to be seen by people farthest from the speaker.
  • In general, make each letter at least 1/32" high for each foot of distance from the material. For example, a 1-inch letter is legible from 32 feet, and a 2-inch letter from 64 feet. Divide the distance from the back of the room to the visual by 32 to determine the minimum size of letters.
  • Use block lettering, since it is easiest to read. Use all capital letters, and do not slant or italicize letters.
  • Use and vary the color. Also, check from a distance to make sure the color works well and is not distracting.
Overhead Transparencies

Overhead Transparency 
ProjectorOverhead transparencies are useful for audience settings of 20 to 50 people and can be produced quickly, easily, and inexpensively. Any camera-ready artwork, whether word charts, illustrations, or diagrams can be made into transparencies using standard office paper copiers.
  • Most manufacturers of paper copiers offer clear and colored acetate sheets that run through copying machines like paper, but transfer a black image into acetate for use as overhead transparencies.
  • The standard transparency size is 8=" x 11''. The only piece of hardware required is an overhead transparency projector.
  • Overlay transparencies provide a good cumulative presentation.
  • Speaker can use an overhead projector with significant light in the room, thereby enabling the speaker to maintain eye contact with the audience.
  • The projected image size is sometimes too small to be seen from the back of a large room.
  • Often, the image does not sit square on the screen, as the head of the projector is tilted to increase the size of the image.
  • It is difficult to write on the transparency while it is on the projector.
  • Sometimes the projector head gets in the audience's way.
  • Some speakers feel captive to the machine, because they must change each transparency by hand.
When Developing Overhead Transparencies:
  • To add color, simply cut a piece of colored acetate gel, available at art stores, to the shape and dimensions needed to highlight a particular part of a transparency. The second (or third) color is taped to the edges of the transparency with clear tape, or glued over an area with clear invisible adhesive such as spray adhesive.
  • Permanent and/or water-soluble ink color marker pens are available for use in hand-coloring parts of an overhead transparency.
  • Overhead transparencies can be developed during a presentation by marking on acetate sheets with water-soluble or permanent transparency pens. The same approach can be used to add information to existing transparencies. In both cases, a damp tissue can be used to wipe information off a transparency that has been marked with water-soluble ink.
  • When removing a transparency from the machine during the presentation, slide the next immediately underneath it to achieve a smooth transition. Don't leave the screen blank with the light on.
  • A 45-degree angle to the audience is the most effective location for an overhead projector and screen. This provides for the least obstructed view. Ideally, set the projector on a table lower than the surrounding tables or platforms to make it less imposing.
  • Transparencies with too much information - especially typed pages designed for a printed piece and transferred to acetate - are confusing. Keep transparencies simple.
  • When typing words for transparencies, use bold typing elements such as HELVETICA and capitalize.
  • Consider making use of a laser printer that can produce good quality transparencies in a variety of bold type styles. These printers, coupled with desktop or portable personal computers are widely available, and prices have dropped significantly. The quality of type and variety of type styles make this a superior option when compared with transparencies done on an office typewriter. If resources permit, color printers are also available.

Posters are prepared graphic devices that can be made of a variety of materials and media - photographs, diagrams, graphs, word messages, or a combination of these. Posters work best in smaller audience sizes.
  • Posters are permanent and portable.
  • Posters can be simple or very elaborate.
  • Posters can be used alone or in a series to tell a story.
  • Posters tend to contain too much detail.
  • Transporting them can be difficult.
  • The more elaborate posters require extensive preparation and can be quite costly.
When preparing posters:
  • Each poster should contain one message or theme.
  • Words, charts, diagrams, and other symbols must be penned in a large enough size to be seen by everyone in the room.
  • Use all capital letters, and do not slant or italicize letters.
  • Use and vary the color. Also, check from a distance to make sure the color works well and is not distracting.
35 Millimeter Slides

Slides 35 mm slides enliven a presentation
for virtually any size audience. They can project a professional image, are relatively inexpensive to produce, and if necessary, can be produced quickly.
  • Slides have high credibility with audiences because viewers looking at photographic slides taken in the field often feel that seeing is believing.
  • The only hardware required is a slide projector and a screen. Slide programs are easy to package in slide trays.
  • Changes in slides or in their sequencing can be done rapidly to meet changing conditions or audiences.
  • Slides cannot be made using a photocopying machine. Therefore, they require more time and money to produce than overhead transparencies.
  • The lights must be dimmed more for slides than for overhead transparencies.
  • Slides require a great deal of preparation and rehearsal.
When Developing a Slide Presentation:
  • Use the outline or text of your talk to note places for appropriate visuals.
  • The best slide programs often mix field photographs with slides of charts, graphs, and other supporting images.
  • Catalog and categorize slides, and place a date, location, and other relevant information on each slide.
  • Vendors can make word slides and illustrations by computer, though they tend to be costly.
Audio-Slide Show

Audio Slide Show Audio-slide shows are self-contained programs having pre-recorded sound tracks that are coordinated with slides by use of electronic synchronizers. The recording tape includes electronic signals that activate a connected slide projector so that an image appears simultaneously with the appropriate voice message, music or sound effects. Audio-slide programs can serve audiences ranging from a handful to a couple of hundred people.
  • For a fraction of the cost of films, audio-slide programs can achieve many of the same program needs.
  • They can impart considerable information because color and a wide array of audio-techniques and visual images can be used.
  • If multiple projectors are used with dissolve units that allow images to "fold" into one another, even a sense of movement can be created.
  • They usually can be produces in-house, equipment is accessible, and they offer a presenter the flexibility of changing slides to meet the needs of specific audiences.
  • Time must be allotted for developing script, sound-track, title and credit slides, visuals, and for production.
  • Each presentation requires securing and assembling proper equipment synchronizer, tape recorder, projector(s), screen(s).
  • Good maintenance must be given to slides so that a warped slide doesn't malfunction and throw off an entire presentation.
When Developing a Program:
  • Identify all components to the program and possible resources to assist in developing these components (e.g., photo lab, recording studio, slide library, graphic artists, a person who has prepared similar programs).
  • Make an initial contact with resource personnel to see what services they can provide, time frames and their scheduling requirements.
  • Develop a tentative production schedule.
  • Prepare a script or a story board and carry this script with you.
  • Photograph or borrow slides of scenes that emphasize your points. Also, gather charts, drawings, books, or other resource materials pertinent to the subject which may be photographed or reproduced graphically as slides.
  • Keep images to one message per frame.
  • Test-run the slide-tape show with enough time to replace slides that are unclear.
  • Secure permission to use commercial or otherwise copyrighted music or material.
  • Keep credit slides to a minimum and use simple design for clarity.

Videotape Videotape electronically carries both a picture and a sound track.
Its features of sound, movement, vivid image, color, and variety hold an audience's attention the way film does. Videotape can be used to program an entire presentation, or to support a speaker's remarks by highlighting certain topics.

  • Videotape productions can be expensive to create and require experienced production teams.
  • In large meetings, the audience may not be able to see the monitor. (If resources permit, video projectors are available.)
When Developing Videotape:
  • Practicing with the equipment by filming, as well as showing, is the best way to overcome hesitancies about its use.
  • To cover the basics if you are brand new to video use, budget yourself a one hour session with an experienced video producer, whether amateur or professional. University extension programs and the local cable T.V. station are good places to check for a no-cost session. Discuss your ideas. Your budget will determine whether you should tape on your own or have a professional make the videotape.
  • Composing and editing a 15-minute video production can easily consume dozens of hours whether you do all of the work or contract to have part of it done. In order for this kind of investment to pay off, it usually means that the final product should be viewed by a large audience or multiple audiences. Consider the facilities available before choosing to use videotape.

When you have prepared the visuals you want to use in your presentation, you must practice using them. Do a practice run in full, preferably with someone you know well and with someone you do not know well. Alternatively, use a video or audio tape recorder, or a mirror.

If you are making a group presentation, do a complete practice run in full. A practice run will ensure that each presentation builds on the previous one and that all the points are covered. These colleagues can also provide valuable feedback. The tips below will help you make the most out of your practice runs:
  • Seek feedback at the point when you have your material well organized but not committed to memory. This will enable any needed changes to be incorporated easily.
  • This feedback should include an evaluation of the presentation's length, logic, clarity, and interest level; the speaker's rate of delivery, voice level, and conversational pattern; and the usefulness of the visual aids.
Once you are satisfied with the content of your presentation, make sure that the technical supports are in place or lined up:
  • Check with the meeting organizer to make sure the equipment you need will be there.
  • If at all possible, arrive at the location of your presentation an hour early to check your equipment and room arrangements. Practice using your visuals with the equipment provided. Make sure that you know where the on/off switch is and make arrangements to have the lights dimmed, if necessary.
Rehearsal is a fundamental step in developing and refining effective presentations. Practicing your presentation and working closely with the meeting organizer to secure the necessary technical supports will assist you in making a smooth performance.


In this discussion, evaluation plays a recurring theme. You must evaluate the appropriateness of the visual aids. You must evaluate how best to prepare them. You must evaluate their effectiveness in your practice run. Adding the visual dimension to a presentation is key to ensuring the presentation's overall success and evaluation plays an important role in choosing and effectively using visual aids.

Training sessions should be designed so that sufficient time is allocated to not only present the information but also to allow for questions and review of materials as needed. The trainer needs to provide an environment in which participants feel sufficiently comfortable in order to ask questions and make comments. Asking questions and discussing aspects of a training program can clarify information and reinforce important learning objectives.

OSHA is concerned that the training information presented must be understood by the employee; otherwise the training will not be effective. Therefore, employers must include training material that is appropriate in content and vocabulary to the educational, literacy and language background of employees. This will ensure that all employees, regardless of their cultural or education background will receive adequate training on how to eliminate or minimize their occupational exposure.

  Page current as of: 08/13/2008