Dec. 5, 1996
Seeing is Believing:
The Importance of Visual Aids in Public Speaking
Though public speaking involves numerous components, I believe that creativity is the most vital element. Creativity separates the good speech from the phenomenal speech, and is attainable through a variety of ways, one of which is the use of effective visual aids. The visual aid works for as the same reason story books appeal to children, the same reason the teachers write on the chalkboard in lessons, the same reason television programs have become more popular than radio programs. We are a visual society, yet often college professors, politicians, and the like, often do not follow this trend. According to W. Lance, in "Public Speaking pedagogy in the Myth Age," "we are increasingly responsive to and informed by the electronic stimulus experience (91)." His concept of the vid-oral approach, the combination of electronic stimulation and the audienceís response, encompasses the use of visual aids in speech delivery.
Visual aids come in all sizes, shapes, and forms, and range from traditional to bold to humorous. Personally, I was able to enhance my informative speech on the hula by wearing "aloha" attire as a visual aid, to add to the "cultural mood." I also used a video of a hula performance to teach the class as I spoke. In a speech concerning racial harassment on campus, I obtained a quilt that students created as a collection of incidences, and draped this bold emblem over a table directly between myself and the audience. When I referred to specific quotations from squares of the quilt during my speech, the audience could refer to the visual reminder personally.
Other well-used and effective visual aids are simple drawings, photos, charts, graphs, or lists either on poster board or pictured on an overhead projector. In my "How to Hula" informative speech, I demonstrated the motions to three steps through drawing a hula dancerís moving feet. This, of course, did not replace actual demonstration by myself and the audience, as we all stood up and danced together. But the simplified arrows and numbered steps on poster board added significantly to the speech and demonstrationís clarity-- a necessity for effective speeches. The audienceís physical participation also counts as a visual aid, because they aid themselves through motion, whether it is to dance, stand up, or raise their hand. A speaker may just as well use more than one visual aid during a speech, such as a poster and a video, so long as they well represent the point the speaker is attempting to convey.
When a speaker chooses to demonstrate his or her creativity in one of these ways, it is important to know how to use it well in a public speech. Ineffective use of oneís visual aid will ruin the chance of delivering a phenomenal speech. For example, when using a video, the clip must be at the correct place, and not too brief or long. The speaker should narrate what is happening if the piece does not require sound. When using poster board, its subject needs to be large and clear enough to see or read comfortably from a distance. The speaker should hold it steady, point to each point of reference while speaking, and store it out of sight when finished. If at all possible, an effective way to present visual aids is to slowly walk in front of the audience while speaking.
Additionally a speaker can use a variety of handouts or samples to creatively enhance their public speech. The more senses involved, the better. If the audience can taste, smell, or feel what the speaker is talking about, in addition to seeing and hearing it, the more chance there is for them to understand and retain that information. Of course one would expect this for a speech on cooking, but I was able to hand out a food sample in my speech on the media. I related the media to donuts (donít ask how!), and after explaining it, shared donuts with the audience so that they would hopefully better comprehend and enjoy the speech. Other handouts can be documents of reference, especially for persuasive and argumentative speeches that need considerable evidence. When using paper handouts, the speaker should explicitly refer to specific areas of it so that it is easy for the listener to locate while following the speech. Otherwise, it will become more of a distraction than a support.
The worry that the visual aid will be more of a distraction than aid to the speech is the prime concern concerning this issue. This worry that it will indeed be more of a distraction than aid to the speech is the prime concern about visual aids. A speaker can prevent this problem by being prepared with video equipment and anything that needs to be taped up or handed out, well ahead of the speaking time. The speaker should also practice the speech with the visual aid, rather than assume that it will be the easiest part. Presentation of the visual aid is crucial! To avoid turning the creative aspect of a speech into a distraction, it will help to practice in front of a "test" audience in order to observe reactions. The visual aid should only take up a fraction of the speaking time-- if lasts longer than this, it may be too distracting.
Visual aids are of course part of the endless possibilities of delivery of public speeches. When used effectively, they are capable of audience stimulation, aiding in speech clarity and comprehensibility. These "extras" are what the audience walks away with, smiles, and remembers. They are what keeps the audience from falling asleep and judges from crying in boredom. They are what distinguishes a speech as oneís own, unique in imagination and insight.
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Questions or Comments? Send mail to Jim Hanson at firstname.lastname@example.org.